Border crossings

Yesterday marked a major family milestone: our firstborn turned 30. The crucial corollary, of course, is that my wife and I suddenly found ourselves parents of a 30-year-old. How did such a thing happen???

Funny thing about having kids: you mark time differently. Before kids, the chapters of your life are often defined by your own personal markers: the time you had to move from one town to another; your first this or that; your high school graduation. After kids, life seems to revolve more around their ages and seasons: today, I’m the father of a newborn, and before you know it, of a toddler, or a kid who’s just started school, or a teenager.

Then they move out. Then they turn 30, and you’re trying to make sense of numbers that may never quite add up again. Indeed, a month ago, when it was my birthday, my mother had to ask how old I was, and seemed startled when I told her.

Recently, I had the privilege of giving a plenary response to a lecture by an older scholar whose work I’ve long admired. He stepped up to the podium and delivered his paper with passion, humor, and infectious energy. And among my many thoughts as he spoke was this: I hope I still have that much fire when I’m 82.  I mentioned that thought later to my wife, and we agreed: heck, I don’t have that much fire now.

Don’t mistake my meaning. I’m not complaining about getting older. Well, all right, maybe just a little (though some of my friends think I’m still just a pup). But it’s not just that. It’s a bit like crossing a border, leaving one country and entering another, wondering if you’re fluent enough or have a good enough guide-book.

Would I go back to being younger? Not a chance. With time has come perspective; overall, I’m calmer and less reactive than I once was. Would I wish to be stronger and healthier? Probably, and perhaps even more so as the years fly by.

The territory ahead is new to me. I want to be someone who walks with faith and grace. If and when I have to deal with the medical establishment, I want to be the patient that doctors and nurses enjoy visiting. I want to be someone who not only lives well, but dies well, serene in the love of God and the reality of the resurrection.

But I don’t know if I will be any of these things.

There will be those who courageously and confidently do all the things described and more, inspiring others with their example. Again, I hope to be one of them, and so to encourage others.

But we needn’t yield to some pietistic urge to deny the bumps and ditches in the road. Death is still the enemy (1 Cor 15:26), and neither it, nor creeping infirmity, nor the pain of loss are part of God’s original and good intent for creation. Thus, Paul says, we groan (Rom 8:23; 2 Cor 5:4) — groan! — as we lean into our resurrection hope.

Believers may falter down the stretch. Some may give in to bitterness, others may fall prey to dementia — the possibilities are legion. But the question, I think, is this: is our spiritual ideal one of individual heroism, or of communities of faith that won’t suffer their members to cross the border alone?

After all, if I make it that far, I might need your help when I’m 82.