It’s the question I asked as I watched my parents struggle with ageing … my father with a serious heart condition and crippling arthritis and my mother with cancer.
I asked it again when a life-long friend battled for years with the humiliating effects of Alzheimer’s disease and finally lost the battle … and each time I visit a friend in a nursing home when the indignity of ageing overwhelms me.
What is the purpose of old age? Why is this last stage of life so often characterised by pain, suffering and decline … when ”another will dress you and take you where you do not want to go”. Now as I head into old age with the occasional twinges in the knuckles and knees, the question has become personal.
The other day I came to the passage that speaks about all creation groaning as it waits for deliverance. The Message puts it this way, “ All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us, but within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us from within.”
Suddenly I got a glimpse of pregnancy as a snapshot of life from conception to death. There’s that wonderful celebratory moment when the colour on the pregnancy strip tells you that the hoping and longing is behind you ... you are pregnant! Slowly the bump begins to show, then there’s the first kicks … you become larger and larger as does the anticipation. But the time comes when you’re exhausted from carrying around the load … your back aches and sleep is scarce because you can’t get comfortable ... you can’t wait to be delivered. The birth pains are agonising but the anticipation of new life makes it all seem worthwhile, as you wait expectantly.
“The waiting does not diminish us any more than it does a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course don’t see what’s enlarging us but the longer we wait, the larger we become and the more joyful our expectancy.”