Age and Time

    If you write about getting older, you get replies with a lot of wit. One person wrote: It’s easier in France; everyone calls you mademoiselle until suddenly one day it’s madame. Another, claiming extra points for knowing where Poughkeepsie is (I may double those points since he’s a Texan), affirmed that time accelerates: slowly it goes—until it’s speeding by.
    There are good things about looking older. Before I went to seminary, I taught junior high math at a pueblo in New Mexico. During a test, one of the students loudly whispered “Austin, come here.” I went to his desk and leaned down. The student asked, “How old are you?” I was stunned. “Dominic, get to work; this is a test.” “No, really,” he said, “How old are you? She says you’re 30, and I say 35.”
    “Get to work and be quiet,” I said, leaving him and not about to cede my newly-found advantage. They were both wrong; I was 24.
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    “Do you sense she’s still with you?” I was speaking about Losing Susan, and the questioner wanted to know whether I experienced an on-going presence of my wife following her death.
    The answer is no, but for me there’s no lack of comfort in it. Susan has gone to be with Jesus; she is “sleeping in Jesus,” to use that special image. We don’t know what it means, but we do know that whatever it means, it has to be good.
    Still, we can think about it. We can ponder this biblical teaching: until the final resurrection of the dead, the departed lack a body. The “life after death” they have is to be distinguished from a future life still to come, what N. T. Wright calls “life after life after death.” In that “yet more glorious day” all the departed are given resurrected bodies.
    So for now, for the departed who lack their bodies, what might time mean? The answer is not at all clear. Time seems connected to space, to action and movement. It would seem odd for the departed to be occupying some sort of non-spatial universe that is parallel to ours, in sync with our time, able to “look down upon us” and share in our on-going life. Maybe they are connected through their being hid and held in Christ. In any event, one senses there are problems here of physics and metaphysics that are beyond our grasp.
    For what it’s worth (which may not be much), the sense I’ve had almost from the moment of her death is that Susan has gone off on a journey. She has gone off: our paths have diverged for now, and so they may remain until that future general resurrection, when all paths converge in the cosmic final assembly.
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    Is there a kind of time in which all at once we are young and old and timeless? Where vigor and wisdom and constancy are met together and kiss each other? And is this but another way of saying with Augustine that our hearts are restless until they rest in God?
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    Out & About. On Whitsunday, May 20, I’ll be preaching at the traditional services (7:30, 9, and 11:15 a.m.) at Incarnation, 3966 McKinney Ave., Dallas.
    June 4-6 (Monday evening to Wednesday noon) the CCET has a conference on “Hope Today” in Baltimore. We have a great line-up of speakers. More info here.

It Creeps Up

Checking out the possibility of a pass to a film festival, I discovered that I am old enough to get a special “senior” price. When did this happen? Some decades ago (back when the children were shorter than their parents) we had a family picture taken. My father saw it and remarked that it was “a fine picture, son, of your family, and of you, a middle-age man.”
    You never see it coming. Suddenly you’re middle-aged. One couple we knew back then was talking about some other adults at the local swimming lake. She said something, and he corrected her. “We’re older than all of them,” he said.
    And then suddenly you’re a senior and people are offering you discounts.
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    Sometimes they don’t even offer, they give it to you. Maybe ten years ago I was in Guymon, Oklahoma (extra points if you can point to it on the map), getting coffee at McDonald’s. The young fellow told me it would be $1.08. I gave him four quarters, a dime, and three pennies—trying to get rid of change. He pushed the three pennies back to me. At the same time, the arm of an older person reached over him and did something to the cash register. He then said, “It’s 27 cents.” I pushed two pennies back to him.
    The older person had given me a senior price. I appreciated the discount, but wasn’t sure it was worth the cost of being marked out as an old guy. The young fellow thought I couldn’t count change. The older guy just saw me as old.
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    Up in Poughkeepsie (extra points if you can point to it on the map), I was an adjunct in the philosophy and religion department at Marist College. Mid-November I found myself on the sidewalk with the department chairman. “How’s it going?” he asked. I remarked how, in September, the semester seemed to stretch ahead as a very long time, but here it was already almost Thanksgiving and it would soon be over. “Yes,” the philosopher said, “it’s just like life.”
    I didn’t see it coming.
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    We think we have so much ahead of us, and then suddenly it’s over—like, the Psalmist says, the grass: “In the morning it is green and flourishes; in the evening it is dried up and withered.” And a bit later: “The span of our life is seventy years, perhaps in strength even eighty; yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow, for they pass away quickly and we are gone.”
    That’s Psalm 90. But it’s not a thought to occasion depression, as if nothing we do matters. Rather, it’s a thought to summon us to do such things as do matter! “So teach us to number our days,” he says, “that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”
    I don’t think you can get a senior discount on wisdom.
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    Out & About. This Sunday, May 6, I am preaching at St. Philip’s Church, Sulphur Springs, Tex. The service is at 10:45, and afterwards I’ll be talking about “Love, Caregiving, Death, and God.”
    A good book—that among other things, speaks of mortality—is Benedict XVI’s Last Testament. I have reviewed it here: https://livingchurch.org/2018/04/27/a-teacher-to-the-end/
    “Friendship: The Final Frontier,” my recent theology lecture, has been posted here: https://incarnation.org/classes/friendship-the-final-frontier-april-22-2018/

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."