In a couple of weeks, Baxter will have a birthday. I consider Valentine’s Day his birthday, since I don’t know the actual date. He was four months old when I got him, so I counted back and picked a day that I wouldn’t forget. Sixteen is old for a cat. If the rule of seven is in play for him, that means that Baxter is 112. He looks good for that age! He still gets around, jumps into the tub, demands meals and treats, and is always on the lookout for stray felines trying to hone in on his territory. He gets excited about these things, but otherwise, Baxter has mellowed with age.
He spends more time on my lap. He allows me to pet him at my will, dry him off after lapping the water from the tub faucet, and rub his belly when I come home for the evening. He even tolerates my bothering him when he is sleeping. Purring is his usual response now to all my interventions. Baxter wears old age well.
How about us? How are we dealing with ourselves and those we love as we age? Getting older can bring out both the best and the worst in us. Like Baxter, it can help us to mellow as we discern what is important in life and what is best left to pass unattended or unnoticed. Not everything is worth our time and energy. We don’t have anything to prove to anyone at this stage. We have made the mark that we have to offer, and hopefully, we can appreciate both the value it holds for others and the limits it has. We can’t solve every problem. We can’t please all people all the time.
We can’t accomplish everything we wish we could in a day, a week, a year, a lifetime. But we do make a positive difference for others and our world, and then we leave it to the next person, the next generation to add their contributions. In these ways, aging brings peace and comfort, and so strengthens our bonds with each other.
On the other hand, getting older can be a hard fact of life. We have to face our limitations, and this can make us anxious and upset. We don’t look the same as we did in our twenties. We sag, shrink and grow soft. We can’t work as long and hard as we did ten years ago. We forget things more easily. We can get trapped in our regrets about the past. We begin to fear what might happen and feel vulnerable. We worry more about our health, our children, our finances, our deaths. “Getting old isn’t for sissies,” as George Burns is alleged to have said. It makes us face ourselves fairly and squarely, with our warts and weaknesses, and sometimes this picture upsets us.
But our God is eternal, ever ancient, ever new, as Saint Augustine wrote. He embraces us in our whole lifespan, and He brings wisdom to bear on our growing older. Keeping the God Jesus revealed in focus, brings two dimensions to both the positives and negatives of growing older.
First, God wraps our lives in divine peace. He embraces what we have done to better life in this world and includes it in His bigger picture of the Kingdom of God. The significance of our lives isn’t measured in worldly terms of monetary, professional or social success. It is magnified by how it fits into God’s work of saving the world, and we don’t understand that full picture until our lives are over. Mary is a prime example of how a human life reflects the glory of God.
Second, God accompanies us through the diminishment and darkness of aging. We never face the fears of growing old and dying alone. As Jesus’ suffering and death show us, the Father is with us. At times, we may not feel His presence or may wonder why certain experiences have come our way. Jesus prayed through just such doubts and confusion. However, His passing reveals that God never abandoned Him, never caused His suffering, never was embarrassed by the shame and physical weakness Jesus faced. In faith, we hold onto this picture as the source of hope for ourselves as age takes its toll.
Baxter and I are getting old together. He deals with it through instinct and the training he got by living with me. We can deal with our latter years better through deeper faith in what we claim to believe and learning to allow God to guide us to the end.