English-born but American-formed landscape painter, Thomas Cole, founding father of the so-called “Hudson River School” of mid-19th century artists, developed a four-part series around 1841 entitled “The Voyage of Life.” One of my favorites, the four paintings – in much smaller reproductions – hang on my bedroom wall in St. Teresa’s rectory. They remind me every day of the quick passing of time in a man’s life.
In each painting, a guardian angel appears, guiding a man from innocent childhood, into idealistic youth, through the difficulties of adulthood, and finally into old age. When I now gaze upon these four paintings, which I have had for more than 30 years, I realize that, as I quickly approach the once ‘old age’ of 65, I have long passed the first three paintings, and am nearly into the fourth frame!
For months now, I have been receiving in the mail numerous notifications about signing up for Medicare Part B before turning 65, or else! I must be receiving someone else’s mail by mistake, I explained to the mailman. It’s not I turning 65 – it can’t be true.
When did this happen? Although my body informs me otherwise, I still think of myself as somewhere between 37 and 39 years old (or is that my current waist size?).
In his best-selling novel “A Man Called Ove,” Swedish author Fredrick Backman writes:
“And time is a curious thing. Most of us only live for the time that lies right ahead of us. A few days, weeks, years. One of the most painful moments in a person’s life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead. And when time no longer lies ahead of one, other things have to be lived for. Memories, perhaps.”
Indeed, looking ahead, even if I am blessed to have another 10, 20 or at most 30 years of an active, healthy lifestyle, still most of my life is already behind me. And so many people I have known and loved have already passed over. Yet of course they are with me always, treasured in memory.
We are told that “age is just a number.” But why and how has my age become such a high number! Certainly there are positive notes herein: I can apply for my half-price, reduced-fare MetroCard, all movie and museum discounts, senior menu selections at the diner. Yes, these are perks, but let’s face it – I don’t have the energy to do all those things or desire to eat all that food as when I was younger.
Who was it who said “youth is wasted on the young”?
So, I go forward into senior citizenship, trying to keep myself in shape – mind, body and spirit. Take one day at a time. Live in the present moment. Don’t sweat the small stuff – I’m too old for that now anyway. Be good to myself. Keep the faith. Put one foot in front of the other. Keep calm and age on!
Msgr. Ferrari is the pastor of St. Teresa’s parish in Woodside. He turns 65 on March 30.