For more than a month I’ve lived and worked in a home for the elderly for my internship with the Little Sisters of the Poor. Before this summer I didn’t have much experience with older people, especially the more infirm. It’s been an eye opening and often difficult experience.
I never used to think about getting old, or even think of my parents getting old (except in perhaps the vaguest sense). My grandmother, who is the main 65+ I’ve dealt with in my life is healthy and able-bodied. So, if anything, I thought of getting old in terms of wrinkles, aches, and extra vitamins not in terms of losing the ability to walk, being continually fatigued, or requiring help with even simple tasks like getting dressed. Now, after 5 weeks here, 40 is young and “the elderly” has taken on a new meaning.
The fact is that I’m probably going to live a very long time. There’s several here in their 90’s and one who’s over 100! (And medical technology just keeps getting better.) But the kind of life I live when I reach that age will be very different from the life I live now.
It may seem a bit pointed but I’ve been thinking of this Bible passage lately:
‘…when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.'” ~John 21:18
These are Jesus words. The writer goes on to explain that “He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.” This may have been our Gospel at Mass at some point in the last 6 weeks but that part about someone else leading you where you do not want to go keeps popping into my head. Life when you’re old is not like my life now. You become dependent and incapable of many thing you used to do.
So if this is what eventually awaits my parents…and me…what will I do in the meantime? Averaging it out I have 60-70 years before I get too old for a lot of big things. Because yes, though not everyone does, I will probably get too old for traveling to Europe, adopting children, and other things I would like to do.
Cliche as it is, I’m faced with the reality that you’re only young once (though that once is actually quite long) and someday I’ll be at the end of this journey called life looking back at where I’ve trod.
Will I have blazed a trail? Taken the road less traveled by?
So now I find myself reexamining my life’s goals. The truth is I want to do something great. We’re all made for greatness after all. My aspirations right now may seem small and simple. However, if Heaven is my true end then becoming secretary of education or backpacking around Ireland or publishing a book–well they pale in comparison.
My life is laid out in front of me with so many paths I could take. Usually, I hate that. I just want to know what I’m supposed to do. But really, it’s a gift. It’s the gift of being young that I have so much possibility. When I’m older the path will be chosen and walked and I won’t be able to undo that. Now, most of my life is in front of me rather than behind and I have the choice to make of how I will live it.
Time is precious, so I’m glad that life is long.