“I shot through my twenties like a luminous thread through a dark needle, blazing toward my destination: Nowhere.” ~Carrie Fisher
Aging isn’t for sissies, as the expression goes. A very old patient recently visited a doctor friend of mine. “Good to see you,” Dr. Tom said. “Yeah, well, better than being viewed,” the old man replied.
And yet, as Gabriel García Márquez observes, “Age has no reality except in the physical world. The essence of a human being is resistant to the passage of time. Our inner lives are eternal, which is to say that our spirits remain as youthful and vigorous as when we were in full bloom.” “Age is not all decay,” George MacDonald adds, “it is the ripening, the swelling of the fresh life within, that withers and bursts the husk.”
I recently attended the memorial service of a retired missionary, affectionately known as Chappie, who seemed to grow younger every year. After learning his cancer was terminal, he teased a close friend, “Hah! I get to go to heaven before you do!” This wasn’t bravado. It was the sincere conviction that his aging and death were leading him toward a new life, toward the bursting of the husk.
Marilyn Monroe said, “Sometimes I think it would be easier to avoid old age, to die young, but then you’d never complete your life, would you? You’d never wholly know you.” (Insightful words, but sadly she never got to prove them true.) Aging is the key to “wholly knowing you.” Mitch Albom notes, “If you stayed at twenty-two, you’d always be as ignorant as you were at twenty-two. Aging is not just decay, it’s growth.” “Do not deprive me of my age,” the poet May Sarton insists, “I have earned it!”
But wisdom is not the automatic result of aging; bitterness and bile can erode it. Still, it can never be fully attained without aging. So, how does one age one’s way to wisdom? I would argue that one must move closer and closer to the Source.
The purpose of driving is to reach a destination, not merely to use up the gas in the tank. In a sense, this is what Jesus meant when he spoke about “the broad road that leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13-14). Most people on the broad road do not choose it, they simply end up on it. Why? Because they choose nothing. They drive until they run out of fuel and end up in that place Carrie Fisher called Nowhere. By contrast, those on “the narrow road that leads to life” choose it. They live toward their destination.
Sylvia Townsend Warner, a brilliant but disenchanted 20th century social experimenter, concluded near the end of her life, “It is best as one grows older…to shed oneself downward like a tree, to be almost wholly earth before one dies.” I beg to differ. I would say it is best to shed oneself upward like a cloud, to be almost wholly spirit before one dies. Let the earth have the spent husk, and set “the fresh life within” free–to be claimed by the One it has been reaching toward its whole life.
As for me? I choose to drive steadfastly toward the Source of wisdom, toward the One who “wholly knows” me, who alone can teach me…
To wholly know myself.