You should come to Mom's party if you're in the neighborhood, Lisa said on my answering machine. I wasn't, as it happened: Genevra, whose birthday it was, lives in Wellsville, New York, and we live five hours away. And I had the flu. So I was excused.
Genevra is two years older, even, than Q, who is old enough. Or used to be: "old enough" recedes further and further into the future as we approach it ourselves. Further and further, and faster and faster, too: lickety-split, we're grown up and accumulated enough years to make us genuine antiques. It doesn't feel like any time at all.
Life expectancy was short in biblical times, which must be why they credited their patriarchs with such long lives -- Adam dies at age 930, and is still fathering children at age 130; Noah is a dad again at age 500 and dies at 950, and of course, Methusaleh makes it to the ripe old age of 969 before shuffling off this mortal coil. Health and vigor for hundreds of years: it would have been a powerful evidence of God's favor in the eyes of people who were old at forty, most of whom saw at least one of their children die before reaching the age of five.
It seemed to them, as it seems to us, that long life is what it's all about. Hordes of aging baby boomers want to be like Methusaleh -- ancient, but trim and lineless; full of pep, though past 100; fit as so many fiddles, taking up room and breathing air and making decisions their children and grandchildren might like to make, if we'd only leave already and give other people a chance. But then, we've never been very comfortable offstage.
But it's okay for life to have an end. In the resurrection, Jesus beat down death under his feet, we are told -- in ancient pictures, we see him do it: one of his feet rests securely on the neck of the powerless serpent who once brought death into the world. But destroying death isn't about not dying -- we're still heading steadily in that direction. It's about removing the sting of death. Christ's victory over death isn't that we don't die, but that we come to understand that death is not all there is. All this, all this beauty and all this pain, is not all there is. We are more than we appear to be at present -- a shadow of our future selves. And so we need not be afraid -- we will step into the next world and find it a place of more beauty and power, more immediate love and presence.
So we don't mumble something apologetic about our diminished physical power or lie about our age, because we know our spirits are getting stronger. And someday our bodies won't be able to hold them any longer. Whoosh! Like a splendid release of lovely birds into the air, they'll be off!
This weekend, June 9-11: "The Spirit in the Garden," a retreat at beautiful Adelynrood Retreat Center in Byfield, MA, easily accessible from Boston by train or bus. The Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross sponsors this retreat with Barbara Crafton. Prior registration is required; contact email@example.com or phone 978-462-6721.
To see just how beautiful Adelynrood is, visit http://www.adelynrood.org/php/img.htm.