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.