The Loving Acceptance of Limitation


Sunday afternoon found me visiting the “Senior Living” facility here in town. As these places go, Atria is the Brigadoon. Sunny, pleasant, watercolors dotting the walls. But even so, women (mostly women, of course) sit along the hallways with nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to see.

I found my way to the couple I was visiting. Sue greeted me at the door. Pete sat in a chair. Sue told me he mostly sits now. He goes to meals in a wheelchair. She walks four times around the facility each morning, almost a mile, she says. But that is not enough to keep her car. The children have quietly insisted she not drive anymore.

We talked for a good long while about what it feels like to give things up, to lose your freedom, to have your choices pared away. They had both been such active people, a can-do couple. Now the key to life was learning how to live inside a smaller and smaller circle. We prayed about that, hugged, hugged again, and I left.

We are all on that road. It starts out as a broad expanse in our youth, but it begins to narrow as the years go by and our choices become fewer. At first the losses are just annoying, but eventually they begin to seem somehow wrong, even an outrage. Finally the path tapers down to near nothing. That is what I was seeing at Atria—just the end of the road I’m on, along with you and everyone else.

I thought of those cryptic words of Jesus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go” (John 21:18). In other words, they will take away your car.

Someone once told me that maturity is the loving acceptance of limitation. We all know how this road goes, how it shrinks and squeezes the further we travel. Or we should know. Mostly, though, we don’t want to see where this thing is taking us. We keep being surprised, keep fighting this funnel. Yet maturity is looking down the pike, seeing the natural contraction of life, and learning to accept it.

We have fewer choices, yes, but now we find they are somehow choosing us. We get smaller, but deeper. We are distilled, yet more intense. Limited, until we brush up against universality.

Having seen its end today, I don’t like where this road is heading. Getting down to the nothingness of the end is as painful and difficult as getting through the eye of that needle. But the end is like the beginning: no one can do it in their own power. We are drawn through the narrow door at the beginning of life, and we are drawn through it again at the end. Someone else always pulls us through.

10 Responses to The Loving Acceptance of Limitation
  1. Ingrid
    August 5, 2013 | 8:51 am

    Being someone in mt late 50’s and making retirement plans….food for thought.
    Thanks !!

  2. Matt
    August 5, 2013 | 9:01 am

    I was 13 for about 29 years so I am kind of enjoying heading down the road of maturity. I think you said it well when you said (or was told) that maturity is the loving acceptance of limitation. To me, maturity is the loving acceptance of everything exactly as it is at this moment, and man is that difficult to accept sometimes. It doesn’t mean I have to agree with it all but it’s always a good starting point.

  3. MeghanF
    August 5, 2013 | 9:58 am

    David, thank you for this insightful and beautiful piece.

  4. Gwen
    August 5, 2013 | 10:21 am

    Oh that hurts, but what keeps me going is the last sentence. Someone else always pulls us thought!

  5. Mark Mosier
    August 5, 2013 | 4:32 pm

    Oh my dear friend. You, with a few words and a genuine illustration from real life (one can just “feel” it) have shared thoughts that have power.
    It is so easy for me as a nurse to look in such judgment at people’s “surprise” even when VERY late in their years. That maturity you spoke of is rare (or perhaps many that I never see are successfully NOT coming to the hospital…). In fact when I encounter someone’s calm serenity in dealing with serious health issues or end-of-life issues, I tend to wonder if they understand the gravity of their position or question “Just why are these kids so ready to see their loved one pass on?”–it is so rare. I wish that all would contemplate more in advance of the “carrying away” when one can no longer make their own choices (I, for one am eager to help families carry out their loved one’s wishes–should they have been discussed and WRITTEN specifically).

    I am so glad that you shared John 21:18. I know that when our parents took us visiting to our church’s nursing home we brought some joy and received, even at a young age, a little glimpse of the hopefully distant road ahead.

    That being said, bring on the creams, elixirs and magic bullets until I too reach a place of more maturity (I was a late bloomer, after all…)

  6. Michael
    August 6, 2013 | 9:51 am

    Good words, bracing words, David. At nearly 65, I am not yet in such a room, not even in the hallway, but I can see it from here. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. Linda
    August 6, 2013 | 1:00 pm

    Thank you, I needed to hear this today. I have an application in at a Senior Living center now. I have lived with my daughter’s family for 9 years but her circumstances have changed and I will be somewhat on my own again. I am looking at this as an opportunity to once again learn to be content with myself. To relearn who I was intended to be instead of what others expect me to be for them. It is a roller coaster of emotions but God doesn’t make mistakes on our journey.

  8. Ginny Lovas
    August 6, 2013 | 7:41 pm

    The replies you received from this Blog hit the nail on the HEAD! You need to expand this into another Book!

    It is funny, and not funny, looking at aging as it is happening to me. My 75 year old brain is still young enough to feel like it is 35 or so, but the BODY – another thing. I keep thinking of what I “want to do next…” e.g. taking an online course in Parish Nursing,, yet this morning as I was following a fellow Coast Guard Auxiliart at COSCO, I had to stop a few times – he was just too fast — then the hearing aide battery died – so could not hear him, and could not catch up with him.

    Anyway, I am not giving up, and will continue to do what I can. And, I hope that having some understanding of aging from a professional standpoint, I will better accept my own.

  9. eric
    September 23, 2013 | 9:53 am

    That last paragraph says it all. Hauntingly beautiful…

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