The Necessary Humiliation of Aging


Today I finished binge-watching Gilmore Girls, ending with the sweet Year in the Life filmed around ten years after the original series ended. I enjoyed this four episode finale though I couldn’t get over how different everyone looked. Don’t get me wrong–they didn’t look bad, they just looked old. I don’t know what I really expected. I mean they are human beings just like the rest of us, and no one can stave off Father Time. But I guess if anyone has a shot at it, we like to think it would be our celebrities with all their money and fancy creams and surgery. So, while I watched this series, I felt that I was very unromantically forced to face the reality of aging in a place where I expected illusion.
The problem with confronting the humanness of these actors is that it forces me to face my own. It makes me remember that I too am aging and no amount of money, sunscreen, or makeup is going to stop it. I hate it. I hate that I am so painfully aware of the brevity of my time here. And I don’t need a TV show to remind me. Every day, I look in the mirror and mourn my tenacious gray hairs or resilient wrinkles,and I am reminded that one day I too will be a memory.

So why does this happen? When you read in the Old Testament, it seems that initially humans lived a much longer span of time–some even several hundred years. Genesis 6:3 though records a shift in God’s plan where He explicitly states that He plans to limit man’s days to 120 years. The context of this proclamation focuses on man’s wickedness and not much further on is the passage regarding the flood. It would seem that this shortened life span is a punishment for the evils of man. If a shorter life is a punishment, watching yourself slowly decompose has got to be one also. But knowing the heart of God as we know it (demonstrated best on the Cross), there has to be more to the story.  

The struggle I had with seeing the actors from a show I liked age stemmed from the desire for the eternal. In a story or movie, time is frozen. For eternity, Frodo is climbing Mt. Doom or Scarlett is begging Rhett to stay. Even better, Reepicheep is gallantly defending his honor or Elizabeth Bennett is falling in love with Mr. Darcy. They do not change, and like many others who have gone before me and after me, I get to revel in reliving those powerful moments. Within each of us is a hope of eternity (Eccl. 3:11)–a desire for forever.

And perhaps, if we didn’t have the daily reminder of our demise, we would lose ourselves in binge-watching shows on Netflix never considering the moments trickling away. But our bodies won’t let us, will they? They remind us that, apart from something spiritual, we are limited. This finite life cannot meet the demands of my heart for something more.  

Percy Bysshe Shelley, the husband of famed Mary Shelley author of Frankenstein, penned these lines about Mont Blanc (the highest mountain in the Alps):

The works and ways of man, their death and birth, 

    And that of him and all that his may be; 

    All things that move and breathe with toil and sound 

    Are born and die; revolve, subside, and swell. 

    Power dwells apart in its tranquillity, 

    Remote, serene, and inaccessible.

Reflecting on the seeming eternality of the mountain, Shelley is overwhelmed by the “coldness” of this thought. All around this impenetrable mountain, people live and die, and the mountain stands and observes it all–the closest picture of endlessness that we can imagine. However, Shelley cannot end with the meaninglessness of man’s existence and concludes his poem contemplating that the mountain is not quite so majestic without us humans to ponder and appreciate it.

The only solution must be to worship that which is truly eternal. And what can be more eternal than a God who stands outside of time. He is not subject to wearying decay. He, like the mountain, can stand and observe the river of humanity as it flows, but He, unlike the mountain, cares. He cares enough to place a desire for eternity in our hearts, a desire that causes us to deny our tiresome journey down the steps to death, but one that cannot be quenched by the distractions of this world. 
So every time that I deny the truth with hair dye and creams, I silently proclaim there must be more. Every time my heart is seared with nostalgia when I come across things from my childhood, I silently proclaim there must be more. This story of mine, and this story of yours, cannot be over so soon. So I take my silent cries to the author of time, and I hope and believe that this brief moment of time can be a story worth telling on the other side when we will have all eternity to enjoy.

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