Aging, the Election and a Pathway Through the Chaos

Are Joe Biden and Donald Trump too old to be President?  This question is getting a lot of attention, with no end of commentary.  Assessments are being made as to each candidate’s physical stamina, mental acuity, and psychological health.  Recommendations have been offered, and fears have been expressed.  Can Joe Biden continue to function effectively in such a pressure-filled office for four more years?  (Some would say that he isn’t able to now).  Can Donald Trump reign in his hostility and vengeance — so as not to not to dismiss categories of people and alienate our allies around the world?  (Some would say he already has).  Will their advanced ages put us at risk?
These are important questions, which need to be addressed — fairly and carefully, which, given the current media and political frenzy, is not like to happen.  Verbal shots will continue to be fired; broadside political salvos will fill every platform — from the media to Congress to lunch rooms to the kitchen table.  And most of us will get caught up in it, which ratchets up our individual and collective anxiety even more.
As critical as these issues are, they can also serve as a dodge — in that we spend most of our attention focusing on their decline, thus avoiding the inevitability of our own diminishment.  I write this on Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent, a seven week period set aside by many branches of the Christian church for personal reflection, and a deeper understanding of our own vulnerability and mortality.  In many Christian traditions, Ash Wednesday is the day when adherents have ashes put on their foreheads with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Most days, I don’t want to remember that I came from dust.  And most of the time I want to avoid the reality that 
my body will eventually break down into dust after I die.  I don’t want to think about my death, and I try and distract myself from gradual mental and physical diminishment as I get older.  It feels much safer to focus on the diminishment and impending death of someone else.  Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross, who in 1969 wrote a transformational book, On Death and Dying, famously remarked, “death is something that happens to thee and thee, but not to me.”  We try and keep our distance from our demise.
For many years I received ashes as a kind of spiritual punishment for my many transgressions and my rather limp faith. And I looked upon Lent as a season of a kind of spiritual Olympics, which, if I demonstrated enough prowess and grit,  would restore me into God’s better, if not good, graces. Over time I have come to see the imposition of ashes as a blessing, and an invitation to accept my vulnerability and mortality.
Accepting death, and  remembering that we are dust and to dust we shall return, is an invitation to surrender.  Most religious traditions have a lot to say about surrender, and about death; and that accepting death is not so much the gateway to eternal life, but gives us more freedom to live the life we already have.  So many people who have been at death’s door have told me that when they relinquished their hold on anxiety and fear over death, they came into a peace they had never experienced before.  People of faith call that grace.
We will be neck deep in the election season for another eight months.  Most of us groan when we take that in.  The fear, anxiety, nastiness and hype which accompanies the election season can be alleviated if we pay attention to our own vulnerability and mortality, and live into the unexpected freedom that will inevitably result.  Which will enable us to better withstand the election chaos and better assist others who are trapped in the crucible of polarization and paralysis.  And  can assist us in doing whatever we can to protect life, which, on this sixth anniversary of the Parkland shooting massacre, is a reminder of of the urgent work that needs to be done.

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