A Wrinkle in Time
Fr. Byron Miller, CSsR
“Wrinkles are hereditary. Parents get them from their children,” quipped Doris Day. Imagine what it’s like to be born with wrinkles rather than die with them. In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, F. Scott Fitzgerald writes about a man who ages in reverse. He’s born with the physical appearance of a seventy-year-old and by the end of his life he has grown into a child.
Is it human nature to regress from adulthood to what feels like a stage of infancy again late in life? After all, the infirm elderly and toddlers are both dependent on caretakers. Near death, we may even assume the fetal position. “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back there” (Job 1:21). But no matter how infantile one’s behavior may appear, all adults deserve to be treated with respect.
What if God created us with the vitality of a teenager late in life? Would it combat lethargy, a side effect of loneliness, boredom, and chronic health issues in old age? Would it be more beneficial to die drinking merrily from the fountain of youth rather than flushing away the vigor that comes with being young when we’re too adolescent to appreciate it? When people ask God for a long life, do they risk asking for an extension of a probable outcome—infirmity?
Prolonging infirmity or not, statistics indicate we’re living longer, healthier lives than ever before. In the beginning of the twentieth century, the average life span was forty-nine years; it’s now about seventy-nine years. Moreover, the oldest Baby Boomers—those seventy-six million Americans born between 1946 and 1964—turned sixty-five in 2011. Thus, a large segment of the population now confronts matters like health care, quality of life, and loss of companionship. “I used to think getting old was about vanity,” remarked novelist Joyce Carol Oates, “but actually it’s about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial.”
By divine providence, the end of a long life isn’t time to recapture the distractions of one’s youth but a time to reacquaint one’s self to our Creator. The elderly often are allowed ample time to fall in love with God and develop an intimate relationship, the type we seldom seek in our youth. Even hearing loss in old age may be God’s way of making room for prayerful conversation and contemplation! We can arrive at the end of our days with a longing for God and a sense of purpose for having lived. These realizations help lessen the fear of death. They make it easier to let go and die like a child with complete trust in our Caretaker, who said: “Even to your old age I am he, even when your hair is gray…
I will lift you up, I will carry you to safety” (Isaiah 46:4).