A year ago, I had a long debate about aging with a Polish friend while driving from Poznan, Poland, to Rivne, Ukraine. My friend said he didn’t mind dying young, while I said I wanted to live to a ripe old age. My friend accused me of fearing death (not very true) and of being too arrogant to leave the stage (far truer).
Actuarially, I’m a good bet. My maternal grandfather lived to 95, and I just visited my still-active father to celebrate his 96th birthday. Neither my mother nor any of my grandparents died younger than 80. I could be around for another three decades. That’s scarier than dying, by far.
I’ve come to want old age as I’ve watched my father live to see things he started get finished.
He started a medical practice and shuttered it down a couple of decades ago. He was married to my mother, a piano teacher, for over fifty years. They raised three boys, all now well into middle age. You aren’t done with your kids when they leave home; I’ve found that much of the delight of parenting comes in being around as your children find themselves, their callings, their wives and husbands, as the trajectories of their lives begin to settle.
My father has had that delight in spades. He’s lived long enough to see many of his grandchildren as adults (a doctor, a lawyer, a dancer, a school teacher, and a couple of computer programmers among them). His oldest great-grandchild is ten, and my father seems likely to be around when he becomes a teenager.
My father planted seeds, watered and trimmed and pruned, and he’s still around to enjoy some of the fruit. He’s lived long enough watch some of that fruit age into wine.
We would have to live forever to watch all the ripples play out to the edge of the pond, to come to the end of every chapter. Every life, even the longest, is fulfilled in faith, confidence in things not seen.
But a life full of beginnings and endings, exertions and completions, plantings and harvestings— that is a blessed life. And it’s the kind of life I want.