Titles You Don’t Want

June 10, 2014 — 13 Comments

 

eyechartThe world’s oldest man just died—and I’m not looking forward to ever becoming one of his successors. I mean, I understand the sentiments of non-Christians who quip that any day on this side of the grass is a good one, but I would only be interested in staying around here that long if I still had a keen mind and good health.

I’m not sure most of the people who eventually earn those titles have either. This gentleman was 111, and in the picture of him receiving his Guinness certificate, he actually looks like he had already expired. I mean, no offense, just a statement of simple fact.

As for his state of mind, I’m a bit more optimistic. Apparently when asked a while ago how he had lived so long, he responded, “because I haven’t died yet.” Assuming that was tongue in cheek (I recognize that is merely an assumption), he had retained his sense of humor. A good sign.

I don’t think ultra-long longevity is all it’s cracked up to be. I remember my 92 year old grandmother (my only relative who lived to be “elderly”) telling me that she was ready to go to heaven. She was in a nursing home, but not in pain, and still witty.

She said, “Robbie, I’ll miss you and everyone who is still here, but if you live long enough, more of the people you love are already in heaven than remaining here.” She had been widowed for three decades. And, unbeknownst to us at the time, three of her four children would follow her within three years of her own passing.

I am not eager to die, of course. And, unlike Polycarp, the bishop of second-century Smyrna, I’m certainly not zealous about the possibility of someday being martyred.

Still, God-willing, when I’ve come to the end of my appointed days I will make that transition peacefully, as is appropriate for a child of God who has been blessed with a full life.

When death is seen as a dark end—a soundless void—it’s understandable that many would resist it to the “bitter” end. That theme has been common in literature and cinema.

In a comic light, a character on Parks and Recreation exhibits the desire to live as long as humanly possible. He exercises without pause and takes every vitamin that exists in horse-pill doses. Soon after Chris Traeger was introduced to the show, he shared his view of life:

I take care of my body above all else. Diet, exercise, supplements, positive thinking. Scientists believe that the first human being who will live 150 years has already been born. I believe I am that human being.

Humorous. And, a respectable goal perhaps, if not driven by deep fear.

I don’t share Traeger’s goal of being the first human to reach 150. Nor, as we considered at the outset of our discussion, do I long to gain the title of World’s Oldest Man.

And I take comfort that I find myself, once again, in the comfortable camp of C.S. Lewis. In his essay “Is Progress Possible?” Lewis wrote:

Progress means movement in a desired direction, and we do not all desire the same things for our species. In “Possible Worlds” Professor Haldane pictured a future in which Man, foreseeing that Earth would soon be uninhabitable, adapted himself for migration to Venus by drastically modifying his physiology and abandoning justice, pity and happiness.

The desire here is for mere survival. Now I care far more how humanity lives than how long. Progress, for me, means increasing goodness and happiness of individual lives. For the species, as for each man, mere longevity seems to me a contemptible ideal.

More important, we believe, is the quality than the quantity, of our lives.

13 responses to Titles You Don’t Want

  1. 

    Of course I agree with you though the term quality of life is generally used in liberal circles as a part of their mentality. What counts is living for the right reasons, not getting things done or living the oldest etc

    • 

      Quite true. The older I get, the more genuine joy I find in living for others… gifting them, in a sense, with my time, attention, concern, etc. I saw that generosity overflow in my mom’s life, and I am pleased the Lord has granted me a small measure of the same.

      I cannot imagine how impoverished the truly selfish life must be…

  2. 

    Well put. Although I’ve wanted to reach 100 since meeting my first Centenarian who was grown up when Queen Victoria died. But heaven looks sweeter every day. I’m glad we aren’t required to make these decisions- Phil. 1:23-24

    • 

      Nothing wrong with living many years when our life remains meaningful. I wouldn’t enjoy outliving my children though, enduring the unfathomable pain some of my friends have had to survive.

      Yes, heaven does look more welcoming every day. A sentiment we share with C.S. Lewis.

  3. 

    Who would’ve guessed that you are so, well, old. I do not know how old you are, rob, but I’m certain it’s incongruous to your prose’s vitality. Not exactly young, which in some circles operates with the undertone of unrefined, but you crackle with life on this blog.

    I’m not afraid of dying. I want to go out when I’m forty, before I truly disappoint myself with my life’s achievements.

    • 

      Coincidentally, I just turned 60 this week. Went to dinner with my siblings and their spouses but made them promise–no black balloons or “mourning” symbols allowed. They granted my request, knowing that I have never cared to make a big production out of my own birthday. Now, the grandkids… that’s a different subject!

      Forty is way too young. At 60 now I’m looking forward to my best years of writing over the next two decades!

  4. 

    Enjoyed the pondering.
    My Aunt Georgia lived to well over 100, but one day her best friend from childhood died and she announced to my dad, she was ready to be called home. Shortly later she peacefully died. Dad said he could tell she had just made up her mind. (And she, who had been an early widow faced with raising a family and earning a living when women didn’t work and run farms, was quite a formidable force…you did what she said.)
    Lots to think about here

    • 

      I too have witnessed people knowing when the moment had arrived and they “surrendered” to death. I don’t believe that’s the wrong word, either. As Paul recounts so well in I Corinthians 15:50f, death is still an “enemy,” despite the fact that it is already defeated and does not have the final word.

  5. 

    Very well said! The wonderful thing about being a Christian is that we can leave the timing of our passing in God’s hands! :)

    In a humorous vein along the idea of “titles you don’t want,” let me add “things for which you don’t want to appear on the first page of Google.” You can actually find me on the first page of Google, number 8 and 9 . . . if you google “self sucking cow.” :0 A friend of ours who works online was very impressed and said he’s only ever known people who paid to get on the first page. Sigh! My cow made me famous, I guess, and that will probably be my only claim to fame in this life. In fact, they can put it on my tombstone: “She was on the first page of Google–for her self-sucking cow saga!” :/

  6. 

    A friendly question – why do you email less than two sentences of your post? I don’t have enough info to decide if I want to read your blog or not… so I don’t click on the link and read more. I blog (a lot). I often include the entire post so people (who are really busy and don’t have time to go elsewhere to write what I’ve written) can read the entire piece in their email. I understand it’s hard to measure readership if people aren’t going to your site. I get that it’s important to see what the trends are and get accurate stats. To be blunt, however, I subscribed to your blog because there was a link on Facebook with more content. I haven’t gone to your blog since because the emails don’t have enough content to pique my interest. I thought I would “when I have time”, but that seldom happens, and when it does I take a walk or pick up a book.

    From one blogger to another, email more content if you want your subscribers to read your posts.

    (Had to dig this out of my email “sent” folder because I couldn’t send you an email. You don’t have to post this on your blog. My intention was for you to receive this by email.)

    • 

      Cathy, thanks for taking the time to offer your suggestion. I understand exactly what you’re saying. And, digitally speaking, receiving the entire post would not congest anyone’s mailbox. Still, this is the first time someone has mentioned this. I have relied on my own experience that clicking on the link never dissuades me from reading on when a topic interests me. But, yes, sometimes I suppose the first couple of sentences are a bit misleading about the rest of the post.

      Actually, when I researched this question back when I began Mere Inkling, it said that the approach I’m using was the most preferred. That could well have changed, however. I’ll give your suggestion some thought. And, thanks again for taking the time to share it!

      • 

        Thanks, Rob. I am inundated with email, so clicking on a link is one step too many unless I’m interested in reading more. You have great ideas and write them well… it’s just that I don’t have time to go to a site unless I’m really interested. Blessings… –c

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