As much as many people would like to deny it, life is not happy-clappy. Every day people get sick, and every day they die – and of course, every day people are born and recover from illness. It’s not the same people who get sick today who get well today, and it certainly isn’t the same people who die today that are born today – though sometimes the same person who is born today dies today.
It seems to me there are a broad range of responses to this truth. Among the most popular is certainly denial. We tell ourselves that while other people get sick, we won’t; though other people age, we won’t; though other people encounter tragedy, it is somehow their fault; and though everyone dies, we prefer not to consider that and see it as decades away. My colleague Bishop Jeffrey Montoya tells the story of a conversation he had with his then eighty-five year old Grandmother. It seems she wanted to go on a bus trip to a casino with a number of friends but was concerned because the trip would cost in the neighborhood of two hundred dollars. When Jeffrey suggested that she had more than enough money in the bank to afford the trip, she replied, “Jeffrey! That money is for my old age!” We laugh because the story is cute, while at the same time not confronting our own denial about our aging.
When we turn thirty we worry because we might be over the hill. Everything hurts more the morning after. By thirty-five we wake up delighted on those next mornings because we don’t hurt – only to be cut down to size on the morning of the second day after when we realize our body now takes forty-eight hours to recognize our bad choices! We turn forty and refer to ourselves as thirty-ten. Some time in our forties or early fifties we may well become Grandparents and complain that we are too young to be Grandparents. There is a good chance that by the time we turn fifty something will have happened to us that cannot be erased and restored to the same condition it was in when we were young. People around us start talking about retiring in fifteen years and we realize that, despite the beginning of physical limitations, we don’t feel old enough to retire in fifteen years. Our first Grandchild heads off to Kindergarten. We get our AARP card. By fifty-five we are eligible for “senior discounts” in many establishments. We start going to restaurants earlier to “avoid the crowds,” but the real reason is that we are tired by eight o’clock.
We need to recognize that everything contained in the last paragraph is absolutely normal. We resist it only because we cannot admit to ourselves that we are, in fact, aging – right alongside every person, plant, or animal that is living. Even things that aren’t alive, such as our homes, are aging. It’s normal! We suffer precisely to the extent that we refuse to accept that it is normal and thereby refuse to accept reality as it is! Life isn’t happy-clappy, but we can be intensely happy by recognizing things as they really are and refusing to fight with reality. There’s no time to start like right now, this very moment!