It’s easy to bravely face something you don’t have to face
Hello, I am 45 years old. I hurt my ankle three months ago, and it’s still not completely well. The stupid part is, I hurt it doing nothing whatsoever. It just randomly swells up from time to time, and then I have to ice and rest and medicate before I can hobble around; and it will probably never be completely fine again.
Sometimes I forget how to sleep; and there are two pills I must take every day if I wish to live. Little bits of my teeth fall off every once in a while; my digestive system is ridiculous; and my eyebrows are slowly disappearing.
I am, in short, starting to get old. Not terribly old. I haven’t lost my marbles yet, and I go running several times a week. Not that you asked, but I could probably even still get pregnant if I really wanted to (which I do not).
I’m reasonably energetic and capable, more or less. But 45 years are certainly enough to cast a faint but undeniable shadow over my days. I am, as they say, over the hill. There’s lots left to do, and I intend to do it, but I can’t deny I’ll be doing it on a downward slide.
I was grumbling about this state of affairs not long ago, and a reader chided me for my fear and weakness. She said that she was not afraid of getting old. She knew that old age led to death and death was the door to Christ! And she loved Christ! So what was there to fear?
What indeed! She wasn’t wrong. But she was, as I suspected, 22 years old. That is why she had no fear of getting old: Because she was young. I wasn’t afraid of getting old, either, when I was in my 20’s, because I was in my 20’s. Nothing easier than bravely facing something you’re not actually facing.
That is, of course, the privilege of the young. It pairs very nicely with what comes next, which is many leisurely decades of repenting of all the dumb things you used to believe about the world and yourself before you really did or knew anything. So there are no hard feelings. But I think of this young woman often, when I feel brave, or strong, or clear-headed, or steadfast, or virtuous, or self-righteous.
I think of her when I see a gay Christian try and failing, over and over and over again, to be chaste (and I am straight and married). I think of her when I see a mom facing cancer, and she’s being negative and nasty instead of hopeful and positive (and I don’t have cancer).
I think of her when I see a rich person squandering his wonderful opportunity to be a blessing to everyone around him (and I’m firmly below the poverty line). I think of her when the pastor is making boneheaded, inexplicable choices in how to run the parish (where I show up for an hour on Sundays).
I think of her when I see a fellow Catholic struggling with some doctrine that’s making them doubt the veracity of the faith (and I can’t remember a time when it didn’t seem clear as day to me).
I think of her any time I catch myself thinking, “Well, if that were me, I’d be doing a much better job of it!” Maybe I would. But it’s not me, and there’s a very good chance that if it were, I’d be failing so much harder than I could ever imagine.
There is no call for me to pat myself on the back for my potential achievements, not unless I want to spend millennia in purgatory thinking about what an ass I was back on earth. I get no credit for not failing at things I’m not even asked to attempt.
So that’s one good thing about being 45 years old, anyway: I am learning how to look at my own life, my own circumstances, my own trials, my own temptations, and to think: Well, that’s enough to keep me busy.