Over the Hill or Reaching Life’s Mountaintop?
by Darla Isackson

At his 80th birthday party, beloved teacher Ivan Barrett made quite an announcement. He said that the work of a reputable research team has proven that those who have the most birthdays live the longest!  That message came to me poignantly last week when a friend my age passed away three days before my birthday. I’ve never been bothered by birthdays, but this one caused me great introspection because my friend who just turned sixty a few months ago will never see sixty-one.

Sunrise, Sunset

Suddenly the temporary nature of my time on earth seems very real, the “dust to dust” nature of my body clearly evident. What vulnerable, fragile houses our bodies are for our resilient, immortal spirits. I remember reading something like that when the Challenger crew died in an instant due to some tiny defect in the spaceship they were trusting their lives to. I revisited those thoughts on 9-11 and recently when the Columbia crew was lost.

Whether our bodies are suddenly shattered or are merely subject to the moment by moment entropy that leads to deterioration and death, mortal life is so temporary, so limited in scope, so uncertain.  When I was young, my life spread out before me like a never-ending path of adventure and intrigue. Sunrise, sunset . . . Swiftly fly the years . . .  and now I count every year a bonus.  No wonder I feel such a sense of urgency, such a sense of needing to love more fully, live more abundantly, and to complete whatever is still unfinished of my mission on earth.  I wish I could remember to treasure each hour, appreciating the gifts of time and choice. I want to  transcend the nonsense, maintain my sense of humor, and recognize the vast value of each passing minute. My goal is to say each morning “this is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.”

I want to spend a lot of my remaining hours on things no one else but me could do–leave the rest to others younger and more energetic. No one else can record what I have learned or document my life experiences or glean from my files the words most meaningful to me. No one else is likely to take “matter unorganized”–my countless stacks of photos–and finish the picture histories of myself and my family that I’ve started. There is no time to lose, but I must not set aside living in order to record my life! I have adorable grandchildren who need my loving care, grown children dear to my heart, a husband who enjoys my attention, friends who need my encouragement.  I must leave my mind and heart open and receptive to God’s quiet prompting. He may at any moment present new divine priorities. Only the Holy Spirit can whisper how I should spend my time in a way I will not regret.

Although it may seem trite to say we can make the sunset of our lives as colorful and beautiful as the sunrise, I believe that is true. We have so many more shades of color to work with as life unfolds, so much more appreciation for the variations, so many more years of experience in choosing from a full palette which colors we want to splash on our individual sky.  The longer I paint my own pictures, the more I realize that life is so much more about being than doing, and that many sunsets I perceived earlier as losses I now see as blessings that continue to enrich my life.

Loss or Gain?

Victor Frankl said,  “What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you. Not only our experiences, but all we have done, whatever great thoughts we may have had, and all we have suffered, all this is not lost, though it is past . . . Having been is also a kind of being, and perhaps the surest kind.” Thinking of this, I wrote:

Those who define their lives by Do-ing

Grow old with sighs and moans . . .

Wiser folks bless each advancing year,

Accept diminished muscle mass as trade-off for soul strength.

They may lose hearing, sight, possessions, family members, health;

But with each loss gain greater grip on Be-ing.

While the dim, fickle paintbrush of “I can do” slows steadily,

“I am” paints colors richer, brighter deeper ’til life’s last breath.

Ardis Whitman said “The years are like a diamond cutter, striking away the shapelessness, leaving behind the essence of the self. They teach us to be responsible and adequate and reasonably brave.” I need all the bravery I can get as I face life’s inevitable losses. Still, even the label “loss” is a matter of perspective. One fine, clear day I wrote

Some Days I Think All Life is Loss

Lamenting length of loss

I grieve shattered dreams and disillusion,

failure to create “ideals.”

I mourn lost times with children flown . . .

No more angel-faced infants making soft sounds of satisfaction,

            toddlers giggling gaily, delighted with discovery,

            winsome smiles when baby teeth are lost,

No more school triumphs, little league, music lessons,

            teenage exuberance, high expectations.

All too soon my dreams and children flew the nest,

Leaving razor-sharp regret; is sorrow my bequest?

On Wiser Days I Know All Life is Gain

I sigh with deep contentment at each heart-held rich memory–

All mine to savor any time I choose–

I miss my babies, yet I wouldn’t wish the old days back;

With each age and stage come new and precious ways we’ve grown.

Great compensations for each loss–

What I have now exceeds all joys I’ve known:

freedom to choose how I spend my hours,

satin-skinned grandbabies to cuddle and coo over,

time to pursue creative dreams, sort out memories, embrace peaceful living.

Each year past brings more life, awareness, hope.

Freedom from illusion as I embrace more truth.

The golden years of life are truly better than the rest . . .

Perspective’s wondrous gifts are heaven-blest.

I love Madeline L’Engle’s idea that “The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.” Sometimes I might wish I could lose some of the ages I’ve been, but then I remember President Hinckley’s words,  “Spare yourselves from the indulgence of self-pity. It is always self-defeating. Subdue the negative and emphasize the positive. Count your blessings and not your problems.”

Great Blessings In Our Later Years

I’m finding it easier to recognize and count all the blessings of my life, and finding so many reasons I’m glad to be the age I am. When we are young, the still small voice, so gentle, so quiet, is often drowned out, smothered by the constant clouds of daily demands and our struggle to prove ourselves, find ourselves. As we grow older, we tend to slow down, take more time to listen and understand. Our later years are enhanced by all we’ve learned of the universe, all we’ve felt and experienced of the human heart and the Lord’s influence on our lives. The schoolmasters of pain, grief, and joy have given us something to share with the world that we didn’t have when we were young. For instance, after she became a widow Berta Lemke wrote:

            “Having the blessings of a long life I have learned:

  • That the meaning of life is often found when we watch a loved one die.
  • That some people use the hardest trials to awaken to their power of spirit and discover an inner courage that amazes them.
  • That it is possible to sit by the bedside of a loved one and discover your own identity.
  • That any experience is multiplied tenfold when shared with someone you love.
  • That I may at any moment reject pain and fear and anger and resentment and choose to love instead.
  • That judging others is the most self-defeating behavior I can engage in.
  • That the nature of grief and emotional pain is a spiral. The pain diminishes with revolution and any day I may wake up and find that I am not only whole again, but expanded in knowledge and wisdom and love.
  • That as I touch another person in love, I will never be entirely separated from that person again.
  • That when I listen to my inner truths, my deep knowing, when I quiet my mind and sit in the dark silence of my being, I  feel the presence of a forever love that lives in perpetuity because it has no place else to go.”

Ardis Whitman said, “The last third of life can illuminate all the rest of it–illuminate, crown and shape it. Through these years, the inner light can grow from one candlepower to the blaze of the sun, warming and blessing everyone around you. There is a treasure in the older years, a treasure infinitely valuable. And when we acknowledge it and use it, we not only help ourselves but contribute immensely to the world. For by our individual prayers, our search for the kingdom of heaven, we help to sustain and nourish the growing of the spirit for all mankind.”

Hopefully, the pinnacle of all we learn as we move along life’s path is that whatever the question, Christ is the answer. As we look back on decades of events and feelings, we see that each life is tied to the network of The Savior’s infinite plan for his children, that what we do affects others, who affect still others. We finally comprehend the inevitable cycle of life and death. Our fear of dying is replaced by our fear that we will stop growing before we die. Because growing is painful at any age, it is a temptation to drift along, cling to memories, avoid stretching and seeing, repenting and becoming a new creature in Christ. But in the Lord’s plan all nature–including his children–keeps growing. If we turn away from growth, we turn away from Him.

Though our physical eyesight may dim in our later years, and we may not hear as well, if we are anxiously engaged in spiritual growth, our spiritual eyes will open wider, our spiritual ears grow more attuned to the word of the Lord and more likely to hear his will. We can choose to keep growing and remain truly alive by making the most of whatever we have left to work with physically, and rejoicing in our gains spiritually. There is always something new trying to emerge in our lives if we cooperate the tiniest bit. Though we know that death, when it come, is nothing more than continuing the growing and becoming in a different setting, there is something infinitely precious about every day we’re given here in mortality. If we open up our hearts on a daily basis, the older we become the more loving, appreciative, and forgiving we become. Turning to Christ and growing in all the Godly attributes is what life is all about. Praise be to God when we are given more years to keep that growth cycle going.

Note: Pre-Mother’s Day sale on Darla’s tapes and booklet–the most down-to-earth, uplifting gifts for any mom. Call Rosehaven Publishing toll-free at: 1-888-790-7040 or go to their web page: www.rosehavenpublishing.com for:

            To Be a Mother, the Agonies and the Ecstasies,  is a unique 16-page booklet with full-color cover, written specifically to mothers with grown children. It contains not only the comforting piece Darla quoted from entitled “The Savior Makes Up the Difference for Mothers, Too,” but four poems and some fine prose by poet laureate Emma Lou Thayne. Now half-price: $1.99!

             “The Juggling Act” and “Peace of Mind” are hour-long inspirational audio tapes that focus on the Savior’s comforting power in our lives. They are sure to lift the heaviest heart and give new perspectives for Christlike living. Now half-price: $2.99 apiece!

            Also check the introductory special of the book that Darla wrote with pioneering clinical traumatologist Barry Richards. Sudden Trauma! When Life Will Never Be the Same Again contains revolutionary, gospel-based principles for healing emotional wounds caused by the traumas of life.

Expiration date of all discount offers: May 31st, 2003

2003 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.