“Old age is a chronic condition.” So goes a supposedly clever bumper-sticker. The meaning seems clear: Being or getting old is like having a disease that won’t go away. As you might guess, I will spend the following paragraphs fuming at the concept behind this condensed negativity.
First a look at “chronic”. Derived from chronos (time), it’s usually associated with something difficult that never goes away. So there might be chronic conditions, diseases, problems, habits, addictions, social arrangements or evils that can plague individuals and groups. These problems recur, remaining persistent and difficult to get rid of.
By definition, whatever is now chronic was not originally that way. Somewhere along the way a temporary or small problem dug in, finding a permanent niche in our lives. Wounds that wouldn’t heal, pain that continued, relationships that never mended, habits or addictions that lived on, sins that remained perpetually unforgiven, societal ills (e.g., poverty) that resisted almost every resolution.
To be objective, I understand that old age doesn’t disappear. And yes, there are elements of aging that are difficult—they’re not going to be cured or solved. And eventually each one of us—at whatever age—will die.
Here’s the rub, though: If I think of myself as a collection—or the embodiment—of essentially discouraging attributes, I might as well discard anything good or godly. I could just think of growing older as an ever-present, gritted-teeth existence—as I face one never-ending impossibility after another.
What a crummy way to live!
Just so you know: I don’t harbor any illusions about difficulties in my life that I can’t shake off easily. I understand chronic physical conditions up-close-and-personal. I’ve been through enough tests, diagnoses, treatments and recoveries to know when and where “chronic” might apply.
I also understand that if I think of myself only as Chronic Old Bob, I would just give up on all of it. Ignore the advice of my loving spouse and friends. Forget exercising. Eat whatever I want. Stop praying. Pick up the remote, a beer and a bowl of Fritos, and just watch real life pass by on a screen. Check out.
But I’m too stubborn of a Christian—wasn’t Jesus a tenacious guy?—to give in to giving up. I’m too aware of my chronic blessings, good things that won’t go away: Plenty of fascinating challenges, enough “days that the Lord hath made” to tackle what’s not right, lots of help for my very real problems, so many astounding people to love, so much that I don’t yet know. Googobs of ideas to play around with, boatloads of intriguing ways to enjoy life, infinite moments of spiritual depth yet to experience.
And here’s a secret that I’ve discovered in my chronically satisfied old age: What used to be chronic may not be any more. Medical conditions that were previously uncurable are now treatable. The social sciences are zeroing in on supposedly intractable personal and societal problems with promising solutions. Under its surface, our society is bubbling with spiritual fervor. Around the world, the force of people pushing back against oppressive and stupid political leaders is growing stronger. I can almost feel God still making all things new, and laughing at the notion of chronic old age.
Can you see why I keep writing blogs that are full of years?
In my old age?
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