There is an old country-wester song called “Too Old to Die Young” that says: “Please don’t let the cold wind blow, till I’m too old to die young!”
Being 77 years old, I am more and more appreciative of that phrase because I have entered a new phase of life that is both scary and yet satisfying.
Fransciscan Friar, Richard Rohr, describes two phases of life in his book “Falling Upward.” His thesis is that you only enter the second phase of life when you suffer some tragedy in your life such as the death of a mate, a divorce, a job loss. The first phase is occupied with striving to build a reputation, an identity, a career, etc. It is something we try to do for ourselves.. The second Phase is much different. For me, the second phase began with the death of my wife of 54 years, Dorene, suddenly and within a week. For the first time in my life I felt I had no control over events. I could only turn to God and cry out: “Help me, I can’t go through this alone!” Each time I cried out a peace came upon me and I knew that God heard me and responded and that I was God’s child and He would get me through this “dark valley.” I can testify that He did and I am now on the other side of the valley, back in the sunlight, but changed forever by the experience!
This second phase of life is both scary and satisfying—scary because I am much more aware of my mortality. The inexorable effects of living 77 years remind me that my body is mortal. The stresses and strains of living multiply as we live longer and we realize that our bodies just can’t perform what we’d like them to do anymore. For example, on a recent trip to visit my son and daughter-in-law in Rochester, NY, we went to Niagara Falls and I found myself—the father who took care of my son for many years—now being taken care of by my son. On the visit to Niagara Falls it was not me carrying my son, as I did often when he was young, but now it was him pushing me in a wheelchair so I could experience a ride on the Maid of the Mists boat at the Falls. But it was satisfying in that I have lived “to see my children grow and see what they become” as the song goes. Both of my children are kind, caring, responsible human beings who express their love for me, their mother, and my present wife in unmistakable ways. Truly, I think that my children are the crowning achievement of my life, although I have achieved much. Not that my wife and I did not make a lot of mistakes in raising them, but we always loved them and tried to be there for them, and now what we did is coming back to me in great measure!
So, this second phase of life is scary, but it is also very satisfying. Richard Rohr, in his book Immortal Diamond says that our “true self” emerges in this second phase. The first phase is occupied, of necessity, with building our “false self”, which is our identity that we create for ourselves, our reputation, inherently needy and fragile, our careers, etc. It is the self that changes and dies. The “false self” is not bad or even “false” as much as it is passing and self-built based on our constant striving. On the other hand, our “true self” is who we really are as a child of God, created in his image, immortall; it is our souls, our absolute identity as a child of God. The many things that bothered the “false self” are no longer our concerns. There is no need to compete, no need to strive, but we are free to live and let live according to God’s plan. I feel at peace with God and his creation and feel a contentment that has not been mine as I was striving to build the “false self” of my identity.
I am thankful every day that “the cold wind” of death has not blown on me “until I’m too old to die young!