There’s junk at this end of the journey

It’s an insult,” he spouted, to have his driver’s license revoked when driving had been his life and his livelihood. The other three I heard from recently were more stoic, and yet acknowledged it was a blow to their independence, if not their pride. That’s junk.

Here’s a quote from a card congratulating me on my second retirement: “We tip Mother Nature off on what our plans are, and she throws the book at us, shelves and all.” He’s talking about health issues. Junk.

Try as I might, I couldn’t think of the name of the thing. I could visualize and describe it, but the name eluded me. I went through the alphabet in hopes of finding a trigger. No use. Finally a kind soul prompted, “Enchiladas.” Oh, yes, of course.

Person names are even worse. I may recall history, circumstances, and connections, but the name is a blank. The embarrassment only adds to the junk.

The hip replacement is just fine; hallelujah! Now my left knee is complaining, and with even a short walk or chores, my back screams. I was quite happy that our three great-grandchildren hadn’t brought their ski pants. It saved me from having to tramp through the snow in the trees out behind the cove on the river. My energy tank was on empty.

There’s junk a-plenty. Can’t sleep. Can’t cut your own toe nails. Can’t sing worth a hoot.  Misunderstand even when you think you’ve heard. No longer sure that what you see is what is. Esophagus calls a retreat. Heart can’t endure cold wind or a heated exchange.  Retinal bleeding requires another injection into the eyeball. Mini-strokes increase. The mind slips a cog now and then, and then oftener. No one asks anything of significance of you, or inquires about your preferences. Losses heap up.

Junk and more junk at this end of the journey.

Sure, joy as well

You don’t like this grey way of seeing things? You want me to be positive? Good. You’re encouraging me to see the joy amid the junk. I get that. There’s still much good, to be sure.

Mary and I still do driving vacations, can walk some, can pick up our great-grandkids and spend a good chunk of the day with them (preferably one at a time). We can read enlightening and challenging books, email friends and family, attend worship times, and do crossword puzzles (haven’t got the hang of Sudoku, and decided it’s too time-consuming to try). We can watch TSN, and meet others for breakfasts (dinners being too costly).

Yes, if we weigh the junk against the joy, we come away grateful beyond words. Yet we know that most of the good we now enjoy, if not life itself, will evaporate within the next decade. The junk/joy balance will inevitably change in favour of the junk.

So I do well to think about the bad stuff now in a way that can sustain me when it gets really ugly. I have this crazy idea that just maybe, since it’s God who arranges the life cycle, and since God’s creative genius seems to have built purpose into even the wee-est part of creation, there may be purpose in this end-of-life unhappiness. That warrants some thought.

The uses of junk

Slogging through this junk may make me more ready to say adieu to the whole enterprise of life itself. True, we resist letting go. Passionately so. It seems we hang on desperately even when we claim the junk is unbearable. Strange, really. Perhaps we teeter on the edge of an idolatry of longevity.

And yet, if it gets bad enough, I suspect the loosening will happen.

More subtly, however, the junk has a way of helping me see what is of prime significance in life. True value must be found beyond bone and muscle and astuteness of mind, since these will fail me, and I will no longer be able to contribute in tangible ways. It seems, then, that the value of my life ought not to be measured merely by my eulogy’s catalogue of what I did.

Essentially then, the junk prods me back to God, and to my most basic reality, namely that I am a child of God. Like graduating into second childhood. Eden rediscovered.  Utter dependence and blissful freedom.

And learning in the end what Mary said recently, that what I’d regarded as God’s steep requirements, Jesus’ stringent demands, are really invitations to freedom.

Forgiving and loving those who treat me as an enemy, sets me free as a little child is free.  Not insisting on my rights and my way, sets me free. Being a peacemaker means I have no axe to grind, no one to conquer. How freeing!  How like primal innocence….

And then my mind does a seismic shift. I’ve thought of my end-of-life junk in the context of a reasonable society and compassionate community. Now I have visions of throw-away aged ones and helpless little ones whose junk is inflicted by the strong and heartless ones. Exploitation, humiliation, assault, neglect, dismemberment, sexual violence, starvation, abandonment. In the face of such horror, the term “junk” is too bland. And I cry out, “O God, O God, have mercy!”

John Regehr taught at MB Bible College, Winnipeg, from 1968 to 1991, and worked with his wife Mary at Recovery of Hope, a counselling centre, from 1990 to 2001. He attends McIvor Ave MB Church, Winnipeg.

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