Saturday, August 13, 2011

Old Friends: Musings on Living and Dying Well

Can you imagine us years from today
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange to be seventy!

For someone younger than thirty, Paul Simon waxed quite philosophical when he penned these words more than forty years ago. He now gets to experience firsthand the answer to his rhetorical question as he turns seventy this year. Oddly enough, seventy doesn’t seem that old anymore, perhaps due to increased life expectancy. They say that the fifties of today are like the thirties of yesteryear, so perhaps seventy is equivalent to fifty. It is all a matter of perspective, particularly as the baby boomer generation is getting on in years.

I certainly was nowhere near as pensive in my twenties as Paul Simon, but similar themes have occupied my thinking lately. Though I am nowhere near seventy, thoughts about getting old and, yes, even dying, have crossed my mind. It is hard not to think of it as, little by little, my parents’ generation is disappearing, thus removing the false sense of security of having a generation standing between me and the inevitable.

I don’t so much fear death as much as what will transpire between now and then. I desire two things in life: to live well and to die well. In one of his many great sermons, the 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon expressed a similar sentiment: “The best thing is to live well, but we are greatly gladdened to hear that the brethren die well.”

What does it mean to live and to die well? Does it mean a tranquil, peaceful death, free of suffering, quietly slipping away (perhaps in my sleep) after reaching a ripe old age? My family’s genes generally take people into their eighties. My wife’s family typically makes it into the nineties and sometimes reaches triple digits. It would be nice to make it that far, but that is not what I have in mind.

Perhaps living and dying well would include living out my days in full control of my faculties. Mental deterioration is definitely a concern that comes with aging. My mom spent her last few years suffering from dementia, and sometimes I fear that genes play a part in it. By contrast, my 92- year-old mother in law is in a nursing home due to physical limitations but she pretty much has her mental faculties intact. But when I visit her, I see many elderly and not so elderly people just staring blankly into space, apparently the victims of some form of mental incapacity. I wonder what if anything is going through their minds and then I wonder what my future holds.

Maybe dying well would mean being surrounded by praying family and friends while drawing one’s final breaths. But that implies that death is expected imminently, perhaps while on a bed of suffering, which would not be my preference.

Though a long life of mental acuity free from intense physical suffering are certainly desirable, these are not what I desire the most when it comes to living and dying. My greatest concern is that I would die in the same way that I lived. As a Christian I believe that Jesus, the sinless Son of God, died on the cross the death that I deserved, and rose again to offer me forgiveness and new life. Utterly relieved and grateful for the forgiveness of my sins, I seek to live for Him by His power, even though I know my best efforts will fall woefully short.

So for me, to live and to die well means that, whether young and vigorous or old and frail, whether in full control of my faculties or mentally incapacitated, I will somehow continue to live in Him until the very end, and look forward to seeing Him face to face, as well as being reunited with precious friends and family. If I can live the rest of my days being faithful to the Lord Jesus, it won’t make too much difference how I die, though the pain free option is obviously preferable. Better yet, the Lord’s return would make it all a moot point. Come, Lord Jesus.
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The two video montages below are dedicated to family and friends of generations past and present. and both of them set to music in keeping with this theme.  I hope you enjoy them.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6-7)


JD Curtis said...

Michael Savage will bring this up sometimes.

Many of us think that we will die in our sleep at 80-something years of age, in good health, and nothing else wrong with us.

But if we look around, we'll notice that this isn't often the case.

Anonymous said...

Lately I find "Old Friends" either inadvertently comic or inadvertently tragic. Inadvertently comic when I think of Paul Simon, who married a wife half his age when he was fifty, and who is now a third-base Little League coach for his youngest son's team-- not much quiet park-bench sitting in his almost- septuagenarian life, I'm willing to bet-- and inadvertenly tragic when I think of Art Garfunkel, who developed a partial paralysis of his vocal chords and doesn't know yet whether he will ever recover enough to sing again. But the bottom line, I guess, is that the 'old friends' of the song are, in fact, old friends, and neither one seems willing to let their old squabbles disrupt their relationship now, for fear that they might find themselves on the outs with each other at a moment when reconciliation will forever be impossible. When you're almost seventy, a friendship that began when you were eleven is not to be squandered.

The Maryland Crustacean said...

Well, put. Over the years, I have been saddened and disappointed at the twists and turns of Paul Simon's personal life, given the thoughtful lyrics he has composed ovder the years, and even the occasional Gospel song he performed before he and Art hit the big time. But there but for the grace of God go I.