Managing Aging, Facing Mortality, and Making a Difference

There comes that day in our lives when we realize that we are not actually going to live forever. This realization, although so very obvious, takes a long time to surface. Most of us go from childhood and adolescence through our 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and even 50’s believing that this thing we call our life has no end. And then comes that moment, it’s arrival different for each of us, when we finally face our mortality.

My moment came halfway through this 59th year of life. There was no warning, no fanfare, it just suddenly showed up as an uninvited guest.

Symptoms for me included reminiscing more than usual about the past, looking at old photo albums, and suddenly creating a 70’s and 80’s playlist on my Iphone.

When I lived in Manhattan in the early 80’s, I felt that the soundtrack for my life was the “Love Theme from St. Elmo’s Fire,” as I saw all before me that I wanted to love, create, and accomplish. And now, all these years later that song along with others like: “Don’t’ Stop Believin,” “Take it to the Limit,” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop us Now,” play through my air buds.

I am suspecting that this may well resonate with you on your life’s journey. I was called by God and made the decision at age 20 to give my life to Jesus and his Church. You might think that this would have made it easier for me to understand my purpose in life and my mortality. However, just like you it has been a real struggle.

You see, it’s just not that easy for any one of us in the life to which we have been called and made, to understand all of its complexities. As a priest and counselor, many have come to me trying to understand the challenges, events, and desires of their faith and life.

And in so many of those times, I learned as much if not more from them, than I was ever able to offer. I believe that the importance of that time though, was that I listened and together we searched for understanding.

This past week, in a conversation with a friend and priest, she reminded me of an ancient Greek quote that has been phrased in many different ways, whilst maintaining its essence:

“A society grows great when old men and women plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.”

I think that if we are fortunate enough to reach this place in life, that is indeed our purpose. When we are young, we expect to sit one day in the cool shade of those trees and accomplishments that we are planting. And, the blessing of our second half of life and latter years is to both understand and accept that what we are now doing is not at all for us, but for others and their future.

I did not expect at this point in my life to still be working for the Church; I was sure that the first time that I retired after 30 years, it would be for good. Yet, here I am serving both a parish and a diocese. What is so very different now though, both in this ministry as priest, and in my life as husband, father, and grandfather is that the trees that I am striving to now plant I will most likely not ever see fully grown.

Are you planting those trees as well? Yes, one day we all shall die. Yet, when blessed by God with many years can we continue to make a difference? Together, can we say that we will continue to plant trees under whose shade we know that we shall never sit…