I spend a good part of the day on the sofa in the den, heating pad on high, surrounded by books. I can’t even muster the strength to go to the garden, so I send Gerry to water and harvest tomatoes and Swiss chard for supper. It feels like a wasted day. Countless things, indoors and out, that I want—no need—to tend to, mock my slothful Labour Day self. But I find wisdom in a book I finally have time to fall into and the day becomes a gift.
I’ve been feeling kind of old. My memory is not as sharp as it once was, I’m out of touch with current culture (that part doesn’t bother me, it’s just that it highlights the fact that I’m in a different season), and I’m physically incapable of doing some things that once were second nature. Having our granddaughter with us for a couple of weeks only magnified my antediluvian feelings. Watching the video of the play we performed when she was here sent me over the edge. There’s no escaping the truth when it’s staring back at you on a screen.
And yet there’s such richness in this season. I’m content here, and while the struggles that are part and parcel of living this life still accompany me, walking through them is different now. I’ve lived long enough, and my faith is deep enough, that I know every time I stumble or encounter an unexpected obstacle presents an opportunity to grow closer to the Divine.
Catherine McNIel, in her beautiful book All Shall Be Well, says: ”When we finally reach the afternoon of life, we have earned the right to rest, to pass on to others what we have learned by surviving so many ups and downs, and to share the trust we formed along the way. Less strength for physical labor provides more time to ponder years of experience, lessons, and wisdom. As the light dims, we sort through piles of memories to find the meaning we missed in the chaos—and gift it to others, a light to illuminate their way.”
On a day when don’t have the jam to do anything but rest, I can trust that the time isn’t wasted if I use it to lean in to the wisdom of the years and listen, and maybe tap out a few good words. McNiel goes on to explain that Carl Jung “describes the decades during and after middle age as the afternoon of life. Jung believed that our developmental task in these years is to deepen our sense of meaning, an opportunity to move from a rushed first draft to a final masterpiece. Our declining outward strength is not designed to limit our contribution to society but to allow for internal work: maturity, understanding, perspective.”
I love the idea that these later years provide the rich ground required to craft a final masterpiece from a rushed first draft, don’t you? It makes a day spent lying low one of opportunity, with work done below the surface in the continual creating of something intangible but no less valuable.
I Google the average life expectancy in Canada in 2019. It’s 82–84 for women and 80 for men and we’re a instant or a diagnosis away from that number being altered for us personally. I’m a visual learner so I draw a rough timeline and it’s clear I’m closer to the end than the beginning.
An afternoon spent on the sofa surrounded by books doesn’t seem wasted when I view it through the lens of doing the internal work of the latter part of life. It seems necessary.
I pray for good health and a relatively strong mind and body as I walk out the rest of my days but there are no guarantees. Can I rest in the goodness of those days when I feel weak? Can I trust that the internal work is as important as the external of the past? Do I really believe that finding fresh ways to write timeless truth for the benefit of another is enough?
I lean in and listen for the answers.