On the Pilgrim Way: Old age isn’t going away
Two-year-old Tanu is screaming with frustration next door: frustration about the things she is rightly not allowed to do, frustration about the things she has not yet got the skills to do. So many limitations! She is in the midst of the “terrible two” stage. In my late 70s, I too have to cope with limitations related to my age. I don’t usually scream but I do become rather gloomy. Tanu will grow out of her terrible twos but I won’t grow out of ageing!
We used to enjoy tea in bed at weekends but we no longer find it comfortable to balance book and mug. On holiday, we used to enjoy a five-mile country walk (or 25-mile bike ride) and then soak in a lovely hot bath in the holiday cottage. Now, two miles, slowly, on flat ground, is probably enough and I am wary of baths which don’t have a grab rail to help me out. Neither of us dares to climb the steps to change a lightbulb – we have to wait for a younger visitor. I love circle dancing but a painful knee does not allow (at least for the present) the inevitable twisting movement. I have always been a good sleeper but getting up three times in the night sometimes leads to wakeful worry times.
Psalm 16 is a wonderful tonic when I start to indulge in these gloomy thoughts. Verse six states: “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” My life is very pleasant – indeed rich – within the “boundary lines” of my present limits. Slow walking means seeing and hearing so much more. I now have the wonderful gift of time: to read, to think, to talk with friends and to listen to music. Psalm 16:7-8 helps too with the night time worries: “I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I keep the Lord always before me because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.”
Tanu and her family will be returning to India soon. If they come back here in a few years’ time to visit, I am almost bound to say to Tanu: “How you have grown and changed!” And that will be a compliment. But if I see an old friend after a gap of a few years, the complimentary things to say is: “You haven’t changed a bit.” Ageing is unwelcome and we say harshly challenging things about it such as: “Old age is not for softies.” Those who remain active and competent to a great age are admired. My father was still marching against Trident when he was 95. My mother was housebound for many of her later years, but it was to her the next generations came to tell their woes and share their joys and be comforted.
I turn to Psalm 16 again to help me try to age graciously: “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.”
Sheila Maxey is Book Reviews Editor for Reform
This article was published in the May 2016 edition of Reform.