Chaplain’s Corner: CLXXX

“Never Alone”

It’s easy to argue that there has never been a better time to be old.  Senior adults, in general, are
the beneficiaries of more opportunities, better healthcare, greater disposable income, and longer
life than any generation in history.

During the heyday of the Roman Empire, average life expectancy was 28.  Today across the
world, it’s approaching 75.  This sunny picture, nevertheless, is crisscrossed by shadows.

If you yearn for societal respect, this is far from the best time to be old.  As Atul Gawande notes in
his 2014 best seller “Being Mortal”, people in previous generations used to lie to census takers
about their age.  They claimed to be older than they actually were.  These days people hope and
pray they are misidentified as younger. A century ago, if you needed to understand something
about the world, you would talk to an old timer.  Today we get our answers from Google.  And if
your computer is acting up, just ask your grandchild to make things right.

Gawande believes there is an even greater crisis when it comes to aging.  Instead of being a time
for celebration, reflection, and anticipation, growing old has largely become one medical
intervention after another.  He writes, “We in the medical world have proved alarmingly
unprepared for it.”  At the time of his writing, fewer than 300 new gerontologists-physicians
specializing in senior medical care-were entering the work force every year, not nearly enough to
replace retiring doctors and meet the overwhelming challenges of America’s rapidly aging

What do we actually know about aging?  It’s not easy for one.  “We just fall apart,” says Felix
Silverstone, the senior geriatrician of the Parker Jewish Institute in New York City.  “Old age is a
series of losses.”

But that’s not the question most older adults really care about.  The real question is how to make
life worth living, even if when we’re feeble and frail and less able to fend for ourselves. Where
can we find the companionship in the face of loneliness? How can we experience meaning in the
midst of weakness?  Who can impart to us an enduring sense of dignity?  Gawande says it well:
“Our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and aged is the failure to recognize that they have
priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is
essential in sustaining meaning in life.”

What do we learn in Scripture about growing older?  We got the very same answer:  It’s not easy.
But we also learn aging does not signify the end of life.  It’s the journey we take on the way to an
experience of life that will never come to an end. Sooner or later everything slips through our
fingers and there’s nothing you can do about it.  But that’s OK.  You can never slip through God’s
fingers.  He will never let you go.  As Jesus said to the beleaguered, wretched, remorseful, yet
hopeful thief dying not far from him on Calvary, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in
Paradise.”  (Luke 23:23)

Old age can feel like a never ending series of losses.  But it can also be a time of never ending
reminders that we’re not walking this path by ourselves. The Creator who’s got the whole world in
His hands has got you too.

Ron Naylor, Chaplain