We’re republishing a series of ‘open letters ‘ that Revd Zoe Heming wrote some years back, during her curacy, for her church’s parish magazine - to “Dear Dementia,” “Dear Carers,” “Dear Younger-self,” “Dear Church,”...
I imagine I am not alone in often having a conversation in my own head with you - my younger-self. I frequently find myself thinking back to a circumstance where you would groan with frustration at my ‘grown up ‘ and ‘boring ‘ approach to something that you’d have done so differently. There are times however, when I sense your pride in me too; when I have the confidence (that you didn’t) to take something on or hold back from speaking my mind... You always spoke your mind - to hell with the consequences!
The thing is, we do all live with many of the consequences of the actions, choices and roads taken by our younger selves. So often, that isn’t in the ways that we were warned about by our ‘olders and betters’ back in the days when we took life less seriously.
I cringe at the truism of the cliche ‘Youth is wasted on the young!’ Is that just something either wistful or bitter middle-aged people say when we simply don’t have the energy to fling ourselves at things the way we once may have done?
Our culture of idolising the wrinkle-free and the vigorously beautiful is a very sick obsession really, isn’t it? Trying to hold back time is like trying to push a river up-hill, isn’t it?! Our Western culture of seeing aging as some kind of shame is baffling to many cultures, particularly Eastern ones, where those with more years and experience are the most honoured in both society and family. I will always remember my Chinese friend’s confusion at how we idolise our babies whom we have just met, over those whom we have always known and shared our lives with! I think she definitely has a point (although I’ll always idolise babies - especially the chubby ones!).
I wonder how God sees us? Both you and I were guided and shaped by God at work in all sorts of ways and people that we don’t immediately see at the time. It’s the looking back which reveals the footprints of The One who accompanied us. I cringe often as I remember the recklessness and certainty with which you made some big decisions, and I pity you for those self-inflicted wounds which could have been avoided. I suspect though, that you often pity me too. No matter how ‘reasonable ‘ or ‘balanced ‘ my arguments and choices may be, there’s no doubt that at times I lack your courage and creativity.
Where we agree though, is that fear of becoming weak, as though worthless or ‘decrepit‘, is far, far worse than the reality of embracing such inevitable decline of our bodies.
Admittedly, my body failed me earlier than most will, but startlingly this has become a gift to us both. Fear itself is the enemy within and without: once the monster is bought out from under the bed, it really doesn’t look that scary after all.
So you encourage me to be braver and I value the experience of time and life which helps me to explain why I should. Both life and time are a gift.
Gifts, value and worth are not the sole terrain of the young and vigorous. Nor are the young to have a perimeter patrolled by those who fear change or losing a grip of the future - where others will take the lead to who knows where.
Somehow our churches have become a place of segregation - with services and events planned for one faction or another. Surely the young and old need one another, just as a body needs more than simply its limbs. It needs a heart, which keeps the consistent flow of life to all parts of the body. And these mortal bodies which house our hearts, minds and souls through this stage of our journey, carry our story as well as God’s story. To fear aging is to fear life itself - and that’s the real tragedy to be avoided with all the strength available to us.
God was there in our beginning...
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. (Psalm 139)
God will be at our departing...
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. (Matthew 10)
The life we are offered in between will always be a mixture of hills to climb and valleys to pass through, but when we have the courage to surrender our fears to God and each other, young and old have much to look forward to:
'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young people will see visions, your old people will dream dreams.’ (Joel 2:28 and Acts 2:17)
...and we need both don’t we?
(nee Zoe Norah Richardson)