Part One of “Any Joys in Growing Old(er)” appeared in the January issue this year and is available here.
It seems to me that “growing old” is partly a mental thing. Oh yes, the body wears out, talks back to us, argues, frets, creaks, stumbles, falls and sometimes just insults us. Oops, there goes another tendon. One of the obstacles to experiencing joy is during the “fallow” times. You’ve heard about land being fallow, a time when there is no activity, planning or harvesting. There is only stillness and inactivity. This is true also in our everyday living. It may be when the nest is empty and the house is quiet with no young people scurrying around and having their kind of fun. It happens for all kinds of reasons. Caitlin Matthew, in her devotional book, “Celtic Spirit”, says we need to honor our own creative and uncreative cycle, and to respect this fallowness as we learn how to be empty, waiting for the soil to be ready for activity. For when the soil is ready, the seed will fall.
“Be still and know that God is God” (Psalm 46:10).
I’ve experienced fallowness in my art studio. Sometimes, I just sit there and look at the paper. Nothing will come. And then, there are many times when I can hardly wait to hold a brush. One of my sons asked me, “Dad, do you still paint by numbers?” “Yes, smart Alex, and your number is coming up soon.”
Let me tell you about a print I found about a year ago at the flea market. A man was unloading a framed art print and I recognized it immediately as one of Lionardo da Vinci’s works. “Queen Ann, Mary, Jesus and John the Baptist.” He sold it to me for twenty dollars. When I got it home, I wondered why I had paid so much for something that was beat up pretty bad. Yet, I put it aside for a future project. Well, I want you to know that I’ve been trying to restore it. When I think about that, I laugh. Me restoring a Leonardo da Vinci? That’s pretty funny! That’s like trying to sing like Bing Crosby or Pavarotti. However, I have the strangest feeling when I work on that print. It was torn and ripped in several places, and I’ve proceeded a little bit at a time, trying to match colors and so forth. I have this warm feeling—like Leonardo’s spirit is in that print, which of course, it is. It’s pure joy.
I think this is sort of a parable. I believe God is with us in our ripped-ness and our torn-ness, and is always eager to restore us in ways that we can’t even imagine or explain. The Psalmist David in the Old Testament had gone through a pretty rough time in his life. David “hit on” Bathsheba and sent her husband, Uriah, to the front line to be killed in war. Walking through the valley of the shadow of death as well as meditating on a Judean hillside prompted him to give us the 23rd Psalm. “He restores my soul,” is a very comforting phrase as well as the rest of the Psalm. He worked through the darkness of guilt and remorse to come to God’s clearing and light. And that light has continued to bless many a burdened soul through the years.
You’ve heard the old cliché, “Go with the flow.” Well, it’s true. Life changes every day and we must accept it or we will never find the joy of living. But often, we balk, complain and cry out in self pity, “Why can’t I do what I used to?” or, “Where did everyone go?” Even change changes, if that makes sense. Who would ever dream that we would have instant connection to people all over the world the moment it happens?
The changes taking place in my lifetime are staggering. I was born before plastic, frozen foods and Frisbees. I never heard the word “yogurt” until I was forty. I remember when gas was eleven cents a gallon and hamburgers were a nickel. Kids today don’t know what it is to get up at 4:00am to milk a cow and have her swish her tail in your face. Such fun. Some of you may remember President Roosevelt saying, “You will never be taxed on Social Security.” Joy may come if we learn how to accept painful change and move on, embracing each new day as God’s gift.
If we are to make it through old age creatively and joyfully, we certainly need a good sense of humor. If you can’t laugh at yourself, with all of life’s ambiguities, you will drag through old age and sound like the man who looked out the window one morning and said, “Just my rotten luck…another day!”
About the restoration of that Leonardo da Vinci art print: why NOT me?
One last thought: We need to remind ourselves that we were not created to be independent and completely self-sufficient. It scares many people (me included) when we must depend on others in different ways. Of course, we depend on God for every breath we take. As we grow older, we give up our independence a little at a time. It is normal to reach out for help. Jesus called on His followers to trust God and not to be anxious about tomorrow. And the eternal truth is that we need each other to survive. Or, as the case may be, as we enter the last dimension.
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).