I just got up from my desk to get a book I left in the bedroom. I hoisted myself out of my chair and walked out of my office. Five steps later I realized I had no idea where I was going or why. I looked around a bit, trying to remember, glad no one was watching, and as I started back to my desk, remembered.

It’s true most of us have moments like that. It’s also true that I have things on my mind. I am writing a film review I plan to send to Rabbit Room to see if they want to post it and am unhappy with both the beginning and the conclusion. I also just remembered I must go get blood draws this afternoon and get a tetanus booster. Not because I’ve stepped on a rusty nail, but because apparently, we need to get them each decade. Didn’t realize that. I had just noticed the appointment on my calendar and realized I need to not get so caught up in the review to miss it, which can happen. And because of the blood draw I’ve not eaten anything today, and I can hear Margie puttering in the kitchen.

As I say, I had things on my mind.

Though memory lapses occur at every age, they become chronic when you reach our age. The various insurance and medical forms list ours as 75+, as if everything after that is lumped into one group. Nothing higher. Except death, I guess.

Margie and I have decided to view our memory lapses as humorous. They are, actually, and we try to remember them so we can tell the other when we’re together and have a laugh. Like my forgetfulness just now. Or two days ago when Margie made reservations at a restaurant for us, typed a text with the details for me, then forgot to send it. And then she forgot the time she reserved, so when I asked her later what the plan was, we ended up arriving late. (They still fed us.)

We figure if we can’t laugh at things like this something must really be wrong with us.

The other things our physicians call chronic conditions of aging are less funny. Fatigue, balance, pain.

I handle fatigue by taking occasional naps. I used to associate naps with not feeling good. Now I associate them as luxurious occasions while feeling great. I find that a hopeful sign. A sign of greater wisdom.

I handle balance by using a cane, an Irish shillelagh. That’s a wooden walking stick made from knotty blackthorn with a knob on top. It helps immensely and reminds me to slow down. Plus, young people see it and often pause to open doors for me, which is lovely. As well as amusing.

Our pain is not evenly shared. Margie has it worse. My knees hurt (osteo-arthritis, my doctor said), but she has much sharper pain far more often in far more of her body. Almost no days without it. Nothing to laugh at. We simply care for each other, and manage our schedule carefully, saying No more often than before.

When the ancient Teacher wanted to describe aging, he used metaphors. He lists, “one rises up at the sound of a bird” to picture sleeping less soundly; and “the almond tree blossoms” for hair turning white (Ecclesiastes 12:4,5). It’s one of those texts where significant teaching occurs but the prose is poetic, and imbued with imagination that we must live in to crack the code.

Sometimes I feel our culture rages against the natural process of aging. Advertising, social media, glossy magazines all emphasize youth, fitness, lack of wrinkles, exotic vacations, and fashion that displays a well-toned, well-tanned body. I try to be polite when people with intense fitness and nutrition regimes express surprise that some hint of aging has interrupted their expectations. Apparently believing the silly myths of this world of advanced modernity, perhaps time will permit them clarity. It has given birth to a species that University of Pennsylvania oncologist Ezekiel J. Emanuel refers to as “the American immortal” in The Atlantic. There is nothing wrong with fitness, of course, but when we choose to be part of a movement that has become a cultural idol, it pays to be discerning. As Thomas Aquinas writes in his Summa Theologica, “One who is strengthened by God professes himself to be an utter fool by human standards, because he despises what the wisdom of men strives for.”

For all cultures, in all human history it was not immaturity but maturity that was seen as the goal of one’s lifetime. This perspective is clear throughout Holy Scripture. The wisdom that comes with age and experience was sought eagerly, and the chronic conditions of aging were embraced as part of the cost. A cost, everyone agreed, that was well worth it because hard-wrought wisdom is rare, precious, and essential, and can be gained in no other way.

When Memory Fades

When mem’ry fades and recognition falters,
when eyes we love grow dim, and minds confused,
speak to our souls of love that never alters,
speak to our hearts by pain and fear abused.
O God of life and healing peace,
Em’pow’r us with patient courage, by your grace infused. 

As frailness grows and youthful strengths diminish
in weary arms which worked their earnest fill,
your aging servants labor now to finish
their earthly tasks as fits your myst’ry’s will.
We grieve their waning, yet rejoice, believing
your arms, unwearied, shall uphold us still… 

When mem’ry fades and recognition falters,
 Your arms, unwearied, shall uphold us still.
                        [Mary Louise Bringle, 2002]

Photo credit: Photo by Jonathan Nenemann (https://www.pexels.com/photo/wooden-barrels-with-wine-in-cellar-5489474/)