Sunday, August 23, 2009

"Winning Form"

Within the past 20 minutes, as I walked toward my vehicle in the church parking lot, I got another glimpse of the time warp we all subconsciously live in.

I’m getting a little more used to these episodes but, since one doesn’t usually “anticipate” them, they can still be jarring. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a well-dressed and dignified lady being escorted to the passenger side of a car. As her husband held her arm, she carefully bent herself at the waist to maneuver inside the vehicle, all the while keeping herself ramrod-straight from the waist up. I hope I didn’t noticeably slow my step as I walked by, but it was evident that she was having a bit of difficulty with her mobility. Still, they were managing well and negotiated it all in only slightly more time than it probably “used to” take.

“Used to;” as in, “formerly;” as in, “may soon revert to, but is not quite the case yet.” In spite of myself, I reflexively did a double-take and recognized this faithful couple-people who are part of the context and human scenery in the family of believers we’ve been part of for more than 25 years. We’ve never known them well enough to use the word “friends” in any but the broadest sense. There have, perhaps, been words spoken here and there, briefly, over the years. Maybe a general awareness that one child or the other of theirs has grown, married and is raising family of their own somewhere else now.

Time changes us all, but seemingly not at the same rate. Children of relatives we see only infrequently seem to undergo startling metamorphosis between visits. After adulthood is reached, there may be the occasional realization that someone’s hair is not just a new style, but perhaps a new hue. There may be a little “softening” in the jawline of someone’s profile (like mine!)

And then, as birthdays accumulate, gradual, irrevocable changes can become more noticeable—or, perhaps, harder to register subtly. One of my sons, now overlong in the easy denial of adolescence, often has an unnecessary and derogatory comment at such moments. I no longer bother to remind him that the only difference between himself and the person whose age he scorns is the passage of time…and that it will tell on him, too.

But I think it’s the unanticipated moments I find myself bouncing up against that offer a choice: they can either wear me down with the undeniability of decay and mortality; or they can be opportunities for recalibration. Always best to make the latter choice….much more useful.

Many years ago, as a college student, I found myself taking a mental note when my roommate’s fiancĂ© made casual reference to some future time when they, as a couple, would be “35 years into our marriage.” It was probably the first and last time I’d heard a 20-something male make such a comment. He was voicing his expectation and assumption about their relationship, based on the “ life-lens” through which he lived.

It seemed unusual for someone so young to project so far into the future, and with such certainty. I’m sure such a view is even more unusual now. [By my reckoning, it will only be a few more years until they will actually be at that milestone.]

Now and then, usually when we’ve been out somewhere, my husband and I will see an “older” couple [relative term, that!] and tell each other, “That will be us someday soon, doll.” Or, “we’re going to be just like that in a couple more months…”

Today, in the parking lot, the couple I saw had somehow, in a way ‘sudden’ to me, arrived “there.” Do they realize it? I’m sure they do . Do they regret it? That would seem to be an unwise expenditure of emotional energy. Do they accept the inevitable with grace or rancor? Do they treasure this stage, knowing that the future direction is inexorably downward…until these “earthly tents” are cast off for the Ultimate Improvement?

Just prior to stepping into the sunshine and out into the parking lot this morning, I learned that another woman had stepped into eternity two nights ago. I think I had been introduced to her once, years before. Shortly after that, I heard that the mother of another acquaintance has just received a dire diagnosis. So perhaps these newsflashes lent some gravitas to my emotional outlook.

But I reminded myself again, as I have been doing for my own past several birthdays, that it’s best to take The Long Look. These milestones undeniably progress….and I use the term “Progress” intentionally: both in terms of Moving Forward, and in terms of Getting Better.

For the lady in the parking lot, for the believing cancer patient who has now passed from Darkness to Light, for the slacker-jawed reflection I see in the mirror each morning: the physical evidence of entropy is most rightly understood as a prelude to the glorified bodies we will know in eternity.

I know that how we negotiate the twists and turns of mortal life matters—what we do with Jesus determines our Destination. How we live now reflects for good or for ill on who we are as people, and on the difference He is making for those of us who follow Him.

But I also look forward to that ultimate “winning form.”

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