Category: Aging

Incomplete but finished

Incomplete but finished. This idea comes to an aging mind as truth wrapped in the package of a life. The end of life approaches and you realize that your life will be finished, but everything about your life will be incomplete — your thoughts, your ideas, your loves, your wants.

Only your needs will be complete; you will need nothing else. Your life will have been poured out in some strange way into other lives that continue. Then you realize that other completed lives had been poured into yours, and you helped those lives continue.

You see this because you see your parents’ lives waning. In one sense, those lives already have ended; Mom and Dad are not the same people you once knew them to be. I see it especially in my dad. His mind is now confused, his body is no longer a tool for work and play. He sits in a wheelchair, complains to leave the nursing home, and is often disagreeable.

Then, every once in a while, a tenderness escapes that lights his face and softens his words. At such points he is more tender than he ever was before, and you realize that both the best and the worst of him are coming out at the end.

He has always been both tender and difficult, but he once unknowingly blended both into an appropriate presentation that allowed him to navigate his world. His world of hardscrabble rural life, then regimented military life, then rewarding  work life would not have allowed him to be either so tender or so difficult. His world would have put him in his place.

So now, in his strange twilight world, we see the truth of his life emerge in new ways that we had not really known before. His life is almost finished, but it will never be completed. Too much has been left undone, at least from his perspective. There are cows to be bought, cared for, and sold. There are improvements to be made to the barn and corral. There are preparations to be made for the coming season. But there is no next season; this is the last.

It is not bad that his life is about finished; it simply is. What has been unique and singular is now in the process of passing away. It is this way with all of us; our uniqueness will end in a final chapter for which we may wish we could write one more chapter.

This should not induce sadness. I’m reminded of one of my favorite movies, “What About Bob.” In the movie, the young boy reveals his deepest fear to Bob, who battles some serious internal fears of his own.”You’re going to die,” Siggy says. “I’m going to die. It’s going to happen. …. What else is there to be afraid of?” Once the truth is out and faced, life becomes tolerable for both Siggy and Bob, and both careen toward frolic and laughter.

Maybe the only thing left to be afraid of is that we will not be able to do everything we want to do. We generally do not get to end life with a tight climax like a book or a movie. As a result, we can appreciate the importance of all of the middle episodes of our lives. The various stories within our larger story provide the deepest meaning.

We each are a story, and our stories intersect and appear in the stories of others. Life was not as we thought, but we have indeed lived, and this is amazing.

Something awaits beyond these days. Many of us call it Heaven. We are moving toward it. Heaven will involve coming into a newer, more real part of living. But it is important to not discount the importance of living this life, with its joys and sorrows.

We now are learning to live. We will not complete all of that learning, but we will be finished with it. We will move to the next stage where life is different. There, in that new life, the tables will be turned; it will never be finished, but it will be complete.

Back to school … for me

It’s been about 15 years since I sat in a classroom as a student, but this past week I returned. I’m now a student in the Doctor of Ministry program at Logsdon Theological Seminary in Abilene, Texas, and it was a great initial experience.

When I began work on my doctorate back in the ’90s, my kids were younger and I tried to do it under the family radar. Generally, I did not begin work on the my readings or writings until the kids and usually my wife were in bed. This time, three of my kids are grown and two of them are close to being grown, and they have been so supportive, expressing gladness that I’m doing this. They know how important learning, growing and ministering are to me, and their encouragement is simply one of the greatest blessings in this venture.

Assuming I will graduate in three years, I’ll be 58 years old. My dad had retired at age 57, but in today’s world that is just not realistic. Of course, Dad has continued “working” and still works hard at age 84 as a rancher. At whatever age we begin to draw retirement income, there is a very real sense in which true retirement only comes with incapacity or death. So while I’ll graduate at an age at which I could retire, I have no intention of retiring. I just now feel like I’m getting rolling.

And to my family and all those who have encouraged me in this, I say a great big, “Thank you. You are part of my life, and my life would be immeasurably less without each of you.”