I watch as their powers slip away. Their walking is slower and less secure. Shoulders are rounded, posture bent. Once in a while they search their memory for the names of people and places as they speak. They do not hear or see as well as they used to–and these are the well ones. Others have cancer or full-blown Alzheimer’s. Some are on dialysis or ten daily medications. Some we don’t see anymore as they are tucked away somewhere in a nursing home.

These are the old–and I am one of them. We watch each other, note the slipping of powers, thank God for what we have left and pray for the grace to accept the inevitable onslaught of advancing age.

Who was it who said, “Old age is not for wimps”? We make jokes as we get out of the car and re-arrange our parts for walking. We understand when one of our group stops driving at night and are filled with wonder when another is still driving at 92! Ours is not to reason why. Ours is to make the best of whatever is left.

I have an old magazine clipping in which author Faith Baldwin admits that she is not resigned to old age. She writes that, after recovering from two cataract operations, she looked into the mirror and screamed. She had not seen herself clearly for several years. She figured if you put together all of the nitroglycerin in the handbags of “adventurous ancients” who go on tours and cruises, you could blow up a small section of the world.

Obviously at age 82 she was still feisty and thinking outside the box. I “googled” Faith Baldwin and found she died at 84, having written 85 novels. I wonder if by then she was ready to “go gentle into the night.”

Oftentimes I imagine that the eighth decade of life is somewhat like the eighth month or pregnancy. There is an inevitability coming up–sooner or later the body will shut down. Sooner or later the baby will be born. It could be an easy transition but an easy transition is not guaranteed.

One of the things that keeps us going is the lack of alternatives. But another thought that sustains us is that we are all part of the design. We have, along the way, learned something about the Designer. Who would have thought that the chick would emerge from the egg or the butterfly emerge from the cocoon? And we have it on good authority that Jesus emerged from the tomb, bright and glorious, after dying to give us eternal life.

i must confess that sometimes I identify with poet Robert Burns. I have lived long enough to have tasted suffering and have seen enough of dying to know that it can be associated with considerable distress. In To A Mouse Burns writes, “An’ forward though I canna see, I guess an’ fear.” That’s me, fearing the unknown.

Robert Browning, on the other hand, looks to his God and invites us to come along. “Grow old along with me,” he wrote. “The best is yet to be, The last of life for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand, Who saith ‘A whole I planned. Youth shows but half, trust God, see all, nor be afraid.'”

Say what? This life is all prelude? There’s a better part coming up, planned by a God whose other name is Love? Surely that is a happy thought.

We have no more idea of what life after death may be like than the babe in the womb can imagine what life after birth is like. But both are planned by a Master Designer. We have seen and been awed by his works–from the magnificence of the cosmos to the beauty of the microcosm in the single living cell.

Methinks (you know I must be old to use that word) my favorite quote of all is from someone who not only talked the talk but showed us how to walk the walk–Pope John Paul II. And what was his favorite, recurring message? “Do not be afraid.”