Eventually all of us will cross the line between physical/mental capability and fragility. During this part of life’s journey, the demarcation point might be broad and relatively invisible—a gradual deterioration of strength or the gradual redevelopment of cancer. This boundary could also be thin but highly visible—a stroke or broken hip. In either case, we will reckon with the transition, making adjustments that honor still-useful traits and now-absent capabilities. Pretending that there is no line is not an option. Neither is imagining the boundary crossing long before it occurs—a kind of pre-hypochondria.
The line between ability and fragility marks the difference between familiar territory—a life of independence—and a new frontier—a new place filled with both danger and opportunity. Only looking back longingly hardly equips us to deal with what’s coming. Disregarding our past capabilities also seems unwise—even though we can’t jump over tall buildings, we still can jump. Somewhere at the heart of this transition zone there must surely be some attitudinal middle ground—a place in our minds where we can see the years of capability as preparation for a coming time of frailty. Where we can find a balanced approach that takes into account both the past and the future so that we can live well in the present.
This murky line might actually be several tracks —one or more for each of the many elements of our well-being, like hearing, seeing, moving, remembering, understanding or digesting. Perhaps our questions about coming frailties are comprised of scores of smaller curiosities that invite more discernment. It’s also possible to look at this whole matter as unworthy of more than a passing thought. “By worrying, which of you can add a year to his/her life?” Jesus asks.
While we may understand the emptiness of worry, we are also aware that our slow metamorphosis towards fragility effects those around us. Being ignorant in these matters may keep us blissful, but what’s likely to happen to our loved ones if we persist in either pessimistic or pre-emptive perceptions about our capabilities? What additional burdens or worries might we shove into the lives of those who care for us? Of what importance is their well-being, their futures, their life goals?
We do not need to approach this stage in life with dread or fear. We can remain content inside our own aging. At the same time, we want to be responsible, to be good stewards of what’s been given us. To keep moving towards life goals that are genuinely achievable. To be satisfied with what has already occurred as well as with what will never again be possible.
One certain response to this matter: Taking care of the miraculous bodies/minds we have inherited. Exercise, sleep, meaning/purpose, diet, mental challenges, friendships—these aspects of our lifestyle can preserve, protect and even increase our capabilities, perhaps even delaying or diminishing some of the frailties that are associated with growing older. As we take an active role in stewarding our well-being, we can sidestep a spirit of submissive resignation, and can keep our minds focused on the God from whom all blessings flow.
Which include both our capabilities AND our frailties….
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