I have a birthday coming up. I look in the mirror, see new wrinkles, a jawline beginning to sag. I call and make an appointment at a clinic far from home for next week. Then I get in my car and go for a drive.
I wandered out in the country, among places people used to live. So many things left over, left out, left behind.
Things not where they belonged.
Is this how we all end up: used up, rusty, parked somewhere we don’t want to be, doing no one any good?
We think about these things on birthdays and on walks. And when we watch movies. I saw “The Butler” two nights ago and watched Forest Whitacker and Oprah Winfrey stride through the decades then creep into their dotage, their bodies bent, legs bowed, shuffling. There it is again.
These aren’t empty or silly fears. We remember our grandparents, visits to nursing homes that smelled like urine where people in wheelchairs and beds haunt their own eyes. I remember my father in his nursing home and the rehab facility which he described as "a house of horrors." (Lord please, let us be valued. Let us be useful. Let us be loved. All the way to the end. )
So we gather all these years. They collect in our bodies as they slowly unhinge, they collect in our faces ....
But I want to sell my collection. I am tempted by promises of youth, by nips and tucks and lasers and fillers and smoothers and plumpers and all the ways devised to hide the press of time upon us. I am made of dust like you, and when my dust gets dustier, why not go for mud, a little watery nudge back in time?
So I went to the skin clinic. A doctor lifted my face to the light, looking at it the way I look at cantaloupe trying to discern its ripeness. She told me everything I needed (it’s worse than I thought). While I am sitting there, heavy now not with age but with conscience, and conflict---should I do this one small thing? Or maybe two? But goodness, no knife!----a call comes. There’s a gas leak. Everyone out! Everyone evacuate the building!
I pick up my purse, follow the frustrated doctor, and leave the building smiling. Smiling into my wrinkles, making more. Glad the gas leak has made the decision for me.
At the end of my walk in the country that day, I came to a river where salmon spawn, hoping to find a few left. But there were none. It was too late, the end of October. Until I climbed over a culvert and into a dry river bed—and there it was. Perfect. Untouched. Brilliant red, the hooked jaw still slightly twitching. And the water gone, gone beneath her, leaving her there, stranded. A bear had not yet found her. Was she there for me? I could not have been more surprised.
And I hoped she had made it, that she had spilled her sac of lovely red pearl eggs before she died, before her life drained from her body, before the water drained from the river, before this passing woman getting older saw it, touched it, photographed it, watching it for long minutes, needing to make words out of the flesh of this fish. Believing somehow that it was here for me. I saw no other fish in any other river, running or dry. Just this one.
In a moment, I was returned to what really matters: turning from the mirror to read the astonishing text of the world, holding it up to the light. Watching it. Writing it down. Sending it on to others.
S0, friends, this is my birthday facelift---to lift my older-every-day face from the mirror to look at the stunning world around me. To read it with clear, crowfoot eyes. The same eyes that read the other stunning text that tells me Nothing, no Nothing can separate us from the love of God. That tells me, You died for us, so that whether we sleep or wake, we live together with you. That tells me, I will never leave you nor forsake you. I am with you until the end of the age.
I have a long way to go, still. Or maybe a short way, who knows how far down the river I’ll get. Who knows how far any of us will get? But look what I was given this day:
the last most beautiful salmon I've ever seen.
We’re going to be fine, all of us.
There will be such surprises and beauty along the way, we will know, no matter our age or abilities:
He loves us still.
No, He loves us even more.
"Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who
will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I
will sustain you and I will rescue you." ----God