Last summer, when I visited the beach, I decided to venture into the ocean and experience the waves after years of wading along the shore. It was a mental aberration, a failure to acknowledge my current physical status: bad feet, hips and knees, poor balance and atrophied muscles. Instead, deceptive memory took me back to a more youthful, capable self. A self who didn’t make grunting noises when she got out of bed. “How hard can it be,” I thought, “I can swim.”
Getting in was fine. I walked in on a gentle incline and enjoyed the warm water. Getting out was another matter. What I hadn’t anticipated was the shelf I encountered while trying to exit the ocean. Obviously, I’d drifted away from that lovely gradual incline. Minus the water smacking me about, I might have climbed out fairly easily after I fell, although it wouldn’t have been pretty; with age, I’ve perfected the three point stance approach to getting off the floor. But the waves interfered with my plan, walloping me fore and aft, turning me into a human tumbleweed. Eventually, I clawed and climbed my way onto the shelly shelf and crawled to shallow water where I clumsily stood up. I shudder to think what this undignified process, both funny and irritating, looked like from behind. At that moment, it became apparent that age had caught up with me, and irrationally, I got mad at Dylan Thomas.
“Do not go gentle into that good night,” he urged, “Old age should burn and rave at close of day. . .” Well, that seemed useless; what I needed wasn’t rage, but handrails! Of course, Thomas wasn’t writing about ageing per se’; he was writing about dying: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” His words ring with passion- and hopelessness.
Despair, the response to the lie that life ends at death is an avoidable landing place. The prophetess, Anna, was old, yet full of hope. She had lived as a wife for seven years and a widow to age eighty-four. Considering her long and, in some sense, lonely life, she would seem a likely candidate for both bitterness and rage, yet Luke wrote, “She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers.” Anna kept praying, knowing that something good was coming; she lived in anticipation. When she met Mary, Joseph and infant Jesus at the temple, she “began giving thanks to God. . . .” Her moment had come: God had saved the best for last.
If we must find something to rage against, let it be against a destructive hopelessness which denies the truth that “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son. . .”. In spite of the beauty of his words, I think I’ll pass on Thomas’ advice. I’d much rather leave this world the way Anna did- lifting up praise rather than a fist, for, “In hope, we were saved.” Romans 8: 24