"The task of every separate stage of life is to confront its fears so that it can become more than it was. For the young, it is overcoming the fear of functioning alone. For the middle-aged, it is dealing with the fear of failure. For those of us who have moved beyond the middle years, it is learning to cope with the fear of weakness." Thus, writes Sister Joan in our chapter for today.
Well, I guess I am in that last category of life stage she names--one who has "moved beyond the middle years." I mean, who lives to be 122 years old? I'm not sure fear of weakness is what plagues me these days.
How about fear of sudden death (an alarming number of people drop dead in their 60's); or the fear of irrelevance (evidence grows thinner by the day that people are straining to hear what I have to say); or the fear of mental and physical flaccidity (I think that speaks for itself); or the fear that i am being inexorably shifted to the periphery--further and further away from being an agent of change and innovation (of course, that's related to the fear of discovering that I never was such an agent in the first place); or the fear of running out of money before we run out of time. Then there is the fear of losing loved ones--I probably fear that more than my own death. How does one live with the kind of loss that comes with losing Jennifer or one of my children?
Ok, this is getting depressing. Now I fear you will stop reading.
In her book, Aging Thoughtfully, (co-authored with Saul Levmore), the philosopher Martha Nussbaum writes, "Fear contracts the mind, riveting it to the preoccupations of the ego." Well said. All the fears I named above are not illegitimate. You can't talk me out of them. But surely I can live in such a way that I am not constantly talking myself into them.
These fears have less traction the more I am given to what lies beyond my otherwise contracting world. For me, simple daily acts like reading, praying, connecting with people (in a variety of ways), writing, taking up the tasks of my work, paying careful attention to what has been given me to do in any given day--even the mundane things. These are not escape or avoidance mechanisms, but they counter the impulse to contraction.
In the Gospels, Jesus utters one phrase over and over again: "Be not afraid." That's a word we need to hear in all its simplicity and trust for all its promise...whatever the stage of life we find ourselves in. Listen for and to that word today: "Be not afraid." See what opens up....