The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents
© 2016 Frank B Crumbaugh III
Maybe it’s an inevitable function of slowly advancing age. Perhaps it’s the emergence of latent hurricane-induced PTSD or some other depressive reaction to life’s changes. It might actually be genuine disruptions in daily life, or perhaps it’s all of the above. Whatever it is, I am aware lately of a greater enervation when I am feeling unsettled. In the past when using the word unsettled, I have meant bemused, annoyed, inconvenienced, or being dissatisfied for reasons I may not fully be able to articulate. Now the word describes feeling not only annoyed or inconvenienced but also occasional unease and disorientation beyond prior capacity to handle. Do you ever get that way?
It is no news to anyone older than 40 that life can feel increasingly unsettled as time passes. Aging has many unsettling symptoms, among them, one’s mind writing checks that one’s body more and more cannot cash: at age 25 I could lift a sack of dry Portland cement onto each shoulder and walk across a ploughed field. The mere thought of that now renders me winded, sweating and needing a glass of cold water.
It is not simply decreasing strength and diminished capacity for exertion that become unsettling with age; recovery time from injury increases with age as well. A fall at 25 is shaken off and a fall at 45 is an inconvenience; a fall at 65 is a problem, and a fall at 85 is serious. Eventually, we get old enough that it’s not clear whether we fell and broke the leg, or the leg broke causing us to fall. We end up on the floor either way, and it hurts. A way to understand the unsettling progression from shaken off to serious is the length of time required to be get back to one’s self, more or less. The older we get the more time we need to recover; of course the dreadful reality is that as we need more time to recover, we have less time to live, and eventually, our recovery time exceeds our lifetime. We call that “final illness.”
Recovery time lengthens as life shortens for all injuries, not just physical ailments. The hurts of lost relationships, deaths of friends and family, loneliness and changed circumstances can be as unsettling as an acute physical injury, requiring as much recovery time as a heart attack or a fall.
Now before you think that I’ve wandered into a stretch of the geriatric woods where robust medication and substantial talking therapy are suggested, there is a point here. And the point is this: certainly many of the changes and chances of life may be beyond our control, our aging and its diminutions first and foremost. And the older we get the more keenly felt are the setbacks. But all of the ways we meet them are fully within our control. That means that what perhaps begins as an involuntary unsettled malaise eventually becomes a chosen behavior rather than an imposed condition.
That’s where our faith bears upon the unsettled places in human life. Anytime I am feeling puny and out of sorts, perhaps even tending toward testiness or flat out grumpiness, I am grateful to recall the loving examples of faithful people who choose joy and hope, even when it seems ridiculous to do so. As increasingly burdensome as the unsettled places of life may feel at times, I am thankful to remember that “He never got over it” is always ultimately a choice. As the Church we are given to one another for many reasons, among them for the love and encouragement of one another as life’s changes come upon us. Our Baptismal vows call us to model for each other and for those who are watching a flexible grace, dignity and good humor. We are called to choose strength to persist faithfully in the face of things in life we haven’t chosen. This is the Church at her shining best.
Such behavior is seen with crystal clarity in Ellen & Bill Kehr and JoAnne & Roy Bray. Their lives could be visual aids for unsettled. These brave souls have faced mindless, grinding delays for 3½ years since Hurricane Sandy destroyed their homes- not their seasonal homes, their sole and primary residences! They are only just now permitted to occupy homes for which they have had to fight for every nickel of insurance and disaster funding owed them. They confronted the losses, and as far too many of us know, the losses themselves can be enough to kill someone. But the Kehrs and the Brays then also had to confront numberless obstacles put in front of them by a vast unseeing bureaucracy that seems to renege on every promise it makes while alleging itself to be helping them.
And through it all, here they are- joyful and strong.
I don’t know about you, but I am inspired by their faithfulness and enduring joy. I stand a little taller and a lot more grateful when I’m with them- it is a humbling honor to be in the presence of people who by rights are entitled to life-long bitterness and unsettled discontent, and have chosen something else. Certainly they have had more than their share of bad days, but they have chosen something better. Ellen and JoAnne, Roy and Bill, each and together have encouraged me by their example far more than I ever could have encouraged them. And any time I feel unsettled, I remind myself of our friends who have endured so much with such grace and equanimity. Please join me in offering thanks to God that they can go home now, and in offering redoubled thanks to God for Companions in the Way whose joy has overcome unsettled and taught us so much.
Love you. See you in Church.
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Perhaps you're a visitor on Long Beach Island. Maybe you haven't been in Church for a while and would like to start back. Whatever is going on in your life, you are welcome at Holy Innocents. Your past affiliations don't mean nearly as much to us as your present affiliation with us.
410 South Atlantic Ave
between Atlantic and Beach)
Beach Haven, New Jersey 08008