If You Could Be 30 Years Old Again

Suffering and travail lead to spiritual rebirth

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Community Faith

Late on a Sunday morning I walked into the nursing home to visit Della. I peeked into her double-occupancy room. Her bed was closest to the hall door, and she lay there with her eyes closed. But she somehow knew when to open them and look at me. Though her body grows weaker by the day, its smiling eyes flash her vibrant spirit.

We talked a while about the latest happenings at our writing group: how all three women were off traveling, leaving five older men to their more profane antics.

“I don’t know why, but we five men had such a jovial time jostling one another.”

“Why?” she asked.

“I guess the women have a moderating influence on our behavior.”

She smiled then asked, “What else is happening?”

“Oh, Jack was jogging and tripped on a sidewalk edge, then fell flat on his face, breaking his nose and causing a raccoon black and blue pattern. He showed up a week later hobbling with a cane.”

“Who’s Jack?”

“Oh, that’s right, you never met him. He’s in his 80s. He’s lucky to be alive after having that bad accident. He’s writing a court drama novel and is determined to publish it. So he won’t be dying any time soon.”

She chuckled a while. “First time I’ve laughed like that in a long time.”

A nurse making her rounds visited with her three children, the four of them standing in the doorway, just to say hello. I was sitting across from Della and turned about to face them all. After their mother introduced the children, I asked the 5-year-old, “How old do you think I am?” He paused for words then said, “Sixty.” His older sister said 62, and their teenage brother, 64. I told them I loved them all for rejuvenating me so much. “I’m 77.” Their mother laughed. Della was beaming as they said goodbye.

When they were gone I asked Della, “If medical science found a way to reverse aging, so that a daily pill could return you to age 30 in a year, would you do it?”

“No… no, I wouldn’t.”

“Why not?”

“I’ve led a full life. I have three wonderful children. And frankly I see no sense to hanging on any longer. Look at all the heartache in the world: the helpless children sick and dying from starvation, soldiers maimed and suicidal, millions bombed or gassed by petty dictators, alcoholic teenagers, homeless people hooked on drugs and scrounging for food and a place to sleep. None of this gruesome hell makes any sense to me. Don’t get me started. If there were a loving God, this would not be happening. I want out.”

Della’s roommate Theresa overheard my question and uttered a response. In her mid-50s, she lay immobilized from Multiple System Atrophy (MSA), a horrific disabling disease that paralyzes the nervous system from head to toe, with premature death in about twelve years. She could scarcely move and, though eager to answer my question, she labored to speak. The vocal chords go bad, one of the first symptoms confirming MSA.

“I would like to go back to age 30,” she said in a hoarse whisper, as I leaned forward to hear her better.

“Would you do anything dramatically different?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t have got divorced. All the stress from that might have done me in.”

“Do you have children who visit you?”

She nodded toward pictures on the windowsill. There I saw a young man and woman standing beside their mother, who appeared beautiful and healthy then.

“My son lives in Vegas. He visits every month or so. My daughter, who lives nearby, comes every week. But she has her own family to look after.”

Two nurses’ aides came in to disrupt our labored discourse. I touched her knee as I said goodbye. “See you next time. We’ll talk about this some more.” She gave me a feeble smile.

I paused on my way out to say goodbye to Della, and she asked me not to leave. But the aides insisted I should go, as they began to undress her for a bath.

I drove home reflecting on their answers to my question: If you could be 30 again?

Della’s response was understandable. Disgusted with evil in the world, her living for another 50 years would never change the wicked world she sees or her assessment of it.

Theresa’s answer was surprising; she never mentioned relief from her horrid genetic disease. Was she willing to live through that again? I’ll have to ask her next time.

My own health troubles pale in comparison to hers ― another good reason for visiting the sick and dying. I wondered what I’d do if I were given a chance to live my life over again. Would I be able to avoid all the suffering and travail? Was it absolutely necessary for me to be so desperate and humbled in order to find myself? What if I had been rich, healthy, married, a happy grandfather, and living a comfortable life? Would I have suffered and mourned enough to recognize and kneel before the Higher Power that I call God? Pride and prejudice from power and prestige might have made me procrastinate.

So, if given a chance to return to age 30 and relive my life without all the pain and suffering, could I do it? I think not. Yearning to discover Christ’s promise of eternal joy, I would not avoid that long anguished labor of spiritual rebirth during the dark night of my soul.

I remembered with happy tears what Christ said, “Truly, truly, I tell you, you will weep and wail while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman has pain in childbirth because her time has come; but when she brings forth her child, she forgets her anguish because of her joy that a child has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:21).

 

Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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