Why I Like Cheerwine (or What About Henry?) (Part Nine)

The Indignities of Old Age

In the Nursing Home

Old_man_carShe is like a horse grazing
a hill pasture that someone makes
smaller by coming every night
to pull the fences in and in.

She has stopped running wide loops,
stopped even the tight circles.
She drops her head to feed; grass
is dust, and the creekbed's dry.

Master, come with your light
halter. Come and bring her in.

(Jane Kenyon, from Otherwise)

It goes without saying that old age brings its indiginities --- life is circumscribed, fenced in, and drawing down. And so I can identify with what Jane Kenyon is feeling, the hope that God will not tarry much longer but come and take his child home.

I have a friend whose father is nearing 100, and yet he is more the horse that considers himself still viral, bucking at the fence, running this way and that (figuratively), with all kind of machinations. Unhappy. Difficult. But really, he just does not know what to do with himself in this small corral where nothing that once seemed good, from food to air and water, tastes of life anymore.

When I watch my own mother, in the early stages of Alzheimers, I see her own narrowing pasture. One who loved to read can no longer concentrate on a book. She cannot drive. She is depressed at some level most of the time. She still enjoys food, so she eats, and I cannot blame her for that when her enjoyments are so limited.

When we reach old age and physically or mentally cannot do much of what we once did, what is God's will for us? How is the remaining time redeemed? Do we stand at the fence and wait for the Master to come? Is that all?

I know that deep inside my mother, or my friend's father, and anyone else of old age is still a person made in God's image, that deep inside the person is still there, only the body will no longer cooperate. These aged persons have a lot of time to think. They can spend it well, in thankfulness, or in regret. Visit your local nursing home and you'll see quite a disparity in how people redeem the time. Some are of sweet spirit, some hateful; it seems that little eccentricities that were always there are accentuated in the aged.

We can ask them to pray. They have a lot of time to pray. We younger folks seem to have none. Our calendars are full; there's, practically empty. If we hadn't so minimized the role of prayer during life, perhaps they would see their task now, when they could easily pray all day for the needs of others, as extremely important and view the time they have as a blessed opportunity.

Can we just ask them to pray? Maybe, just maybe, they will stop their running, forget the smallish corral, and realize they have no boundaries with prayer, that their prayers make it to the throne room of God just like everyone else's. When it comes to prayer. they can drive like anyone else, only they can enjoy the ride more.