High School graduations this year have reminded me not only of significant life passages, but of how quickly life itself passes. While 17 and 18 year olds (and a few 16 year olds) celebrate the completion of high school, this marks my 50th year since high school graduation. This is the year I’ll go to my high school class reunion and wonder who all the old people are there, and think I must surely be in the wrong place! Good grief…how and when did my classmates get so old while I managed to stay young? Or have I grown older too, but just didn’t notice? And what about these remarkably young-looking persons graduating this year (they still look like kids, don’t they?)—will 50 more years of living age them like my classmates?
Umm…guess I may as well admit it, life is moving all too quickly. And it’s harder to ignore mortality when you’re pushing 68 than it was at 17. But guess what…the view from here is still very good! I may be further down the curvature of the earth (so to speak) than I was at 17, but I’m not pushing daisies yet. And I can see much more of life from here than I could back then. It’s like standing on a mountain peak and looking around; the distant peaks behind me, and the valleys between, remind me of all sorts of life-experiences—both good and not so good—and the ways I’ve been able to travel this life. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have gotten this far, their lives cut short by one thing or another. Anyone who makes it this far had better be grateful!
Looking ahead, the peaks still in front of me remind me there is still more living to be done. The sun may be higher in the sky now than it was at 17, but it hasn’t set yet. And barring illness or accident, it’ll be a little while yet before my sun goes down. From here, I can see further behind than any 17 year old can, and I can see further ahead than they can (as long as I have my glasses on!). The view from here is a vast panorama of life, enabling me to see things I wasn’t able to see at 17. And the brisk breeze in my face beckons me forward to a new season of life. “Old age,” Parker Palmer says, “is no time to hunker down, unless disability demands it. Old is just another word for nothing left to lose, a time of life to take bigger risks on behalf of the common good.”
Looking around at the world we share with young and old alike, I am mindful that this beautiful life is marked with both suffering and possibility. The past months and weeks have ripped the covers off our mortality, exposing us to vulnerabilities we imagined we had moved beyond in our modern world. Things like pandemics and racial disparities are far from being only things of the past! While they painfully remind us of deep suffering in the world, they also present possibilities for human solidarity and the healing of some old wounds. But we don’t have forever; the sun is going down for all of us, even as it is rising for others. We owe it to those behind us to leave the world in better shape than we found it. And older folks may be best equipped to do that.
“Teach us to number our days rightly,”the Psalm writer says, “that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). Our life on earth is short, no two ways about it. “Whether seventy years or eighty,” the same Psalm says, “they quickly pass, and we fly away.” It’s silly not to make the most of life, whether we have 5 years, 50 years, or 100 years. It’s also silly to imagine we can make the most of life by living selfishly—for our own interests. So, God helping us, let’s lean into that brisk breeze blowing into our faces, the wind/Spirit of God beckoning us onward…until our sun goes down and we arrive in the heart of eternity, forever blessed and forever loved. Peace be with you.
Phil Kanagy, pastor
June 17, 2020