"We don't change as we get older--we just get to be more of what we've always been." writes Sister Joan. That seems like an odd statement to make in the midst of a reflection on "newness" and aging.
Yet, I think she has it right. Any "newness" in our later years of life is always going to come with a lot of "oldness" in the mix. In other words, we don't suddenly become "new" when we retire or, for that matter, when we get married or become a parent or take up a professional role or lose a spouse. To every "new" phase of life we bring the person we have become.
Have you noticed how everyone pretty much stays the same? I can meet someone after not seeing them for decades and I know who they are. At least, I don't feel like I am meeting a stranger. They are always much more familiar than unfamiliar. Even if they may have changed physically in some dramatic way (lost or gained on a lot of weight or hair or wrinkles); or gone through significant life changes (lost or gained a spouse, become a parent, retired, etc); they remain fundamentally familiar to me. Of course, if we look and listen closely enough, we would come to see how they have changed. No one stays just the same. Maybe the newness in our lives is about the ever present possibility of becoming more than the person we have already become.
So there is newness to be known and discovered amidst the oldness. Sister Joan claims that "Old age is not when we stop growing. It is exactly the time to grow in new ways. It is the period in which we set out to make sense out of all the growing we have already done."
My father (86), who lives in Wichita, Kansas, has been in the hospital the past few days. Struggling to breathe, he was admitted to the ICU on Saturday.. We talked by phone last night. He's moved out of ICU and into a room. Hopefully home today. I could tell he was still struggling to breathe freely. As I wrote yesterday, he had the utmost respect and admiration for Billy Graham. Our conversation about Billy's death got us to talking about his own experience of facing death. He said something like, "I think a lot over my life. There's not much time left. I am more grateful than ever for my life. No regrets. I feel content. I think that's the grace of God." I noticed that, as he spoke that last sentence, he was no longer struggling for breath.
In the Old Testament book of Lamentations--and extended lamentation by the Prophet, Jeremiah in the wake of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem--there comes a note of enduring hope: "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in him.'" (3:22-23).
Each day offers the possibility of newness...amidst all that is already.