A couple of months ago I wrote about the short retreat I made with two friends, all of us turning sixty this year and wanting some time and space to ponder the third third of life. We want to live intentionally, authentically, and prayerfully.
Two snippets of encounter since then:
Many of the members of my small congregation are elderly ~ six of them in their nineties! One of my deepest regrets about leaving at this point is that, beyond getting to know them and listen to them and pray with them, I have done little in the way of helping them to live these last years in the way that my friends and I discussed. They have mostly been forced by health and loss into circumstances neither of their choosing nor their liking, and their resistance is formidable. I wonder frequently about neglected matters of practical planning ~ and I am experiencing the same thing with my 81-year-old father, who refuses to communicate any preferences for his future life, should he lose his capacity for independent living ~ and I wonder just as frequently about matters of spiritual planning, and about a spirituality that mostly longs for the past and fears death intensely.
Yesterday, in response to some questions I had put to my college students for discussion, two young men expressed their hope that their faith would deepen as they grow older, and one in particular articulated a conviction that old age could be a time of deep spiritual growth. That's my desire as well ~ for myself, and for my older congregation, and for my young students.
And in my own life:
My husband, who is sixty-two, would like to retire yesterday and devote himself to the pottery making that has become his new passion over the past year. (We have a roughshod studio in the basement now, and I am sure that a kiln is wending its way toward our garage.) Last night, he asked whether I plan to work at least at the pathetic salary I earn now for the next several years, and wondered whether we could live on X dollars a year. We talked over our debts, our needs, and our hopes ~ we are not extravagant, except with respect to books, but our house needs some major work, and we do want to travel, at least modestly, and we have children who will, presumably, have children ~ and I finally said, "It would be obscene if we could not live on that amount of money."
"I think so, too," he said.
And so, intentional living commences, in the financial arena, at least. This is a little scary, and quite different from our last major economic transition We were married when we were in graduate school (first round), and were in a state of somewhat delighted shock when we both went to work and discovered that, within a matter of months, we could afford a house, and trips that involved hotels rather than campsites, and airfare and dinners out whenever we wanted them. Ever since then, we have been able to more or less count on being able to earn money in the future and, except for a decade or so when dollars were scarce and kids were plentiful, we have been attentive to retirement saving. The crises in our lives have not been financial ones. (Would that they had been.) Our kitchen is thirty years old, and the third floor bathroom plumbing is mostly original, i.e., approaching the century mark, but the fact that we have a third floor tells you that these are not crises.
Nevertheless, it's scary to consider the transition from an income-producing household to a savings-withdrawing household.
There is, it seems to me, something deeply spiritual in beginning to recognize and plan for limitation. Initial limitations with respect to dollars, to the house, to travel, to what we can do for our family. The limitations that follow will have to do with health and mobility.
Is it not possible that the bracketing of our lives in some ways might lead to their expansion in others? It's scary, but it's kind of exciting as well.