During my two week vacation in Austria, we had a wonderful time: hiking up to a cabin with a stunning view for some Austrian sausages in the sun; sledding down fast and furiously; ice skating together; cooking delicious meals as a team (so much more fun than alone); skiing, both cross country and downhill (I can almost keep up with the youngest grandchildren!); playing games and sitting by the fire… the list goes on.

Still, at times I experienced some of the painful dimensions of growing old(er).  Notable and obvious are the physical  ones — knees, shoulders, the odd tweak here or there.  After some of the busy days I was thankful for the calming that an Ibuprofen in the evening provided.  (I am unabashed about taking those now and again, and glad that I am still able to participate in most of the activities.)  My kids are very sweet, acknowledging it’s lovely I can be on board for all these adventures, but assuring me it will be just fine if and when the time comes that I can’t, or choose not to.  For me that has a kind of bittersweet quality.

Then there were the more psychological and relational experiences of growing old, such as the times when I am not able to hear well enough to follow the conversation, or the times when some things I said were ignored… especially by the younger set.  (It’s some comfort that the parents get ignored as well, but that’s a bit different!)

I had a funny experience of being invisible in Vancouver just before I left.  I was walking down the street, and noticing that many people, younger, jacked in, or just busy, simply don’t see me.  That definitely happens as we get older, and I’m getting used to it, and don’t mind much any more, I just notice and smile.  But then I came to an automatic door.  I walked up close to it, and nothing happened.  I was invisible even to the automatic door!  Soon a person came up to it from the other side, and it opened automatically.  I snuck through, and really had to laugh.

But in truth, being ignored and being invisible takes some getting used to, as does the sense of really not knowing how much longer I have.  We just don’t know.  It could be tomorrow, or 30 years from now.  I find that it’s good to ask the question, be with the not knowing, and do my best to be ready at any and every moment.

Which brings me to a quote from an ancient sage that struck me.  Epictetus said,   “Do you know that disease and death must needs overtake us, no matter what we are doing?. . . What do you wish to be doing when it overtakes you?. . . If you have anything better to be doing when you are so overtaken, get to work on that.” 

So what’s worth doing when death overtakes me?  I’ve been asking myself this recently, in various ways:  what is it all about?  And recently I had occasion to remember St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer, which my mom loved and taught me as a child.  Do you know it?  In case you too occasionally wonder what it’s all about, I suggest we could do worse than going with this.  Even if you choose to change a bit of the religious language, the guidance is like a shower of golden rain.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

I also learned it may not have been written by St. Francis, but that doesn’t really matter much either, now, does it!

What is it all about in your book?  I’d love to hear.

Jill Schroder is the author of BECOMING: Journeying Toward Authenticity.  BECOMING is an invitation for self-reflection, and to mine our memorable moments for insights, meaning, andgrowth.  Check the website for a sample chapter, or see the reviews to get a flavor for the volume.  Follow me on Twitter, let’s be friends on Facebook :-)

Share this: