Thursday, October 11, 2012

When you get to my age...

I had a funeral the other day.  The woman was a former member of the choir, pianist, and part of a salt of the earth couple married just shy of their 61st anniversary at her death.  She was almost 82 at the time of her death.  She was very close to the age of my parents and my in-laws.  Funerals like these have ripples well beyond the individual whom we commend to the Lord.  I was thinking of it in one way but the words of another member of the parish framed it all quite differently.

"When you get to my age," he said, "every funeral you go to is like a rehearsal."  Now there is something to think about...

It was not that long ago -- I remember it as a child -- when people did not think in terms of retirement.  They generally worked right up to death.  In farm fashion, this often meant the parents moved to town while the farm home was given to the son (or daughter and son-in-law) who was to continue the farming tradition.  It was not really a retirement -- these folks did pretty much everything they had done on the farm but they had to drive out there from town to do it.

Now retirement has changed the way we look at life.  The prospect of giving up work you have to do for the work (hobbies, interests, etc.) you want to do, has become very attractive.  There is not much Biblical about this notion -- try to find a work that means something like retirement in the Bible.  Can't be done.  It is not there.  But that has not stopped us from redefining life and seeking that day when work ceases and, as some retired folk are want to remind me, the real work begins.

Once age was just a birthday -- sometimes a milestone -- but a day not all that different from any other day of work, eating, and rest.  Now getting to a certain age in relatively good health is a pretty big goal for most folks approaching the late 50s and early 60s.  We have created a parallel universe in which we look forward to the surrender of the time clock, bosses, and due dates to be free to do what we want (so long as we can afford it).  I appreciated the honesty of the fellow who said the the funerals he attended had become dry runs for his own mortal future as well as that of many loved ones around him.

One thing retirement has done is move even further from our radar the idea that life is limited and that death waits for us all.  I recall a shut in from early on in my ministry.  She complained that her husbands pension was miserably small.  In the 1980s it was about $150 a month.  Her husband had worked as a New York City policeman, beginning his service after he left the army following WWI and ending his time about 25 years later.  At that point they had moved upstate and he began collecting his pension while beginning a new career in a lumberyard.  He worked there for 20 more years before retiring and then dying not so many years later.  I reminded this shut in who was then in her mid-90s that the NYC police retirement fund had not planned on her living so long and still collecting on his pension.  They had expected the two would have died many years before.  Image that.  Two careers and two retirements!  BTW this same lady sometimes said that all her friends were long dead and she did not have much chance for any real decent sins since she lived alone and seldom left the house!  She was a hoot. She would have understood that comment -- every funeral I attend is like a rehearsal.  She was not trying to put off death.  She had been ready for a long time. 

I don't think such talk is morbid or depressing.  It is in the glimpse of reality that the grace of God is made even more profound in our eyes.  To be sure, there is a certain sadness in every funeral and I understand it.  I shed my own tears for many of those who were more than mere names to me.  But it is also healthy to realize our own mortality and to remember that every funeral is, in that very real sense, a dry run or rehearsal for your own.  In life, in death, and all the days in between, abide with me, O Lord... Abide with me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why have we been born in the first place, if our efforts will have been for naught and we leave everything behind. I keep being reminded of Ecclesiastes: All is vanity. How are we to remain upbeat and hopeful in such a corrupt, fallen world? Are we all not here waiting to die?