When you are old


The Rev. Geoffrey Butcher, Priest-in-charge - Trinity Episcopal Church, Russellville



It only seems like yesterday that I left by train for prep school. College came soon after, then seminary and graduate school, marriage and children, grandchildren, and now great grandchildren. Where did the time go? My elders said that life was short, but with fifty or more years to live that hardly seemed short. But then the time arrives for retirement, Medicare, social security, and eventually assisted living, and then a final “goodbye.”

W. B. Yeats wrote a beautiful poem describing the time when we become old and grey and full of sleep.

“When you are old and grey and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in yours,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Love hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Could that mean that the love that nourishes our lives and gives a purpose for living is now living out of sight amid the stars – or beyond in a life unknown? What have I learned in my three score years and ten? Would I do it again as lived, or would I like a second chance? Does it matter if Love’s message is that “all will be well.” (Julian of Norwich) Can I grow old with grace?

As a ship leaves the harbor and passes out of sight in the sunset, will someone greet me on the other shore? Bishop Brent thought so and wrote:

“What is dying? I am standing on the sea shore. A ship sails and spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the ocean. She is an object of beauty and I stand watching her till at last she fades on the horizon, and someone at my side says, ‘She is gone.’ Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all; she is just as large in the masts, hull and spars

as she was when I saw her, and just as able to bear her load of living freight to its destination.

The diminished size and total loss of sight is in me, not in her, and just at the moment when someone at my side says, ‘She is gone’, there are others who are watching her coming, and other voices take up a glad shout, ‘There she comes’, and that is dying.” Bishop C. H. Brent (1862-1929)

Fear not old age. Nod by the fire, be grateful for the past and the kind memories your friends recall; and when the final breath is taken, see God’s face among the stars, or on another shore.

The Rev. Geoffrey Butcher, Priest-in-charge

Trinity Episcopal Church, Russellville

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