The Genesis:3 Project
God said: My spirit shall not contend within the human being indefinitely, because he is also flesh; his days shall be 120 years. (Genesis 6:3)
One of my favorite Dave Matthews songs is “Gravedigger.” (It is worth the listen.) It is a meditation on death, but also a remarkable insight in how to consider the length of a life. It begins “Cyrus Jones, 1810-1913, made his great grand-children believe you could live to 103. A hundred and three is forever when you’re just a little kid. So, Cyrus Jones lived forever.”
Scientists recently speculated that the oldest age a person can reach is 115, notwithstanding the occasional record-breaker. Our physical bodies, the “also flesh” in the verse above, don’t seem to be able to sustain life beyond that point. Sure, there will be technological advances that will enable greater longevity, but they will require replacing original manufacturers’ equipment with aftermarket parts.
I am past the halfway point of Cyrus Jones, Genesis and scientific evidence, and trying hard to remember what I thought about being old when I was young. I got a little bit of insight from my two-year-old granddaughter who has just learned to put multiple names to some things. Entertaining us with her combination of “mommy” and “daddy” with their proper first names, she was then confronted with a new universe of relationships. Standing there were her grandparents, her great-grandfather and a friend whose name was the same as her mother’s. As her mom (my daughter) explained that grandma and grandpa were her own mommy and daddy, great-grandpa was grandma’s daddy and the friend had the same name as mommy, this little girl looked on with a combination of skepticism, amusement and incomprehension. We can always tell when she’s on overload because she agrees to anything with a flat, “Yeah.” She was “yeah-ing” all over the place.
I am thinking that some admixture of those qualities informed my sense of being older than 60 when I was five or twelve or twenty-two. Hey, I knew it would happen and I knew plenty of people who lived in that decade and beyond. But me?
I am not talking about the adolescent self-deception of invincibility set to music in the theme to “Fame.” It only takes a diagnosis of the first chronic condition fished from the gene pool to disabuse you of that notion. I mean imagining myself as an old guy, with a wife, grown children and a granddaughter. If you had told me all those things (and the rest of it), I would have been “yeah-ing” all over the place, too. I mean, I grew up with grandparents and great-grandparents and plenty of older people around, and it was just incomprehensible that I would get there myself. Like Cyrus Jones, all those people (none of whom made it to 103) lived forever.
Yet, here I am. My great blessing is that my years have been full, so I will not subject you to the self-pity of “it all flew by so fast.” But now I find myself trying to imagine what I have heard from so many vital people who have come so much closer to the limits of their flesh to sustain them and are tired of the spirit contending within. Can I imagine proclaiming, “I’m ready?”
I cannot. It is not that I consider that surrender some failure of will or an expression of cowardice before the arrayed forces of mortality. And it is not that I have some bucket list to check off before I will claim a life fulfilled. I am just not there yet, and if you tell me I will be, I will answer, “Yeah.” Until, I hope, 103, 115 or 120.
I am standing with everyone alive on the verge of four very uncertain years ahead. The prospect of what is to come has provoked within me a combination of skepticism, amusement and incomprehension, along with fear, defiance and determination. It is hard to imagine what comes next, even if the promise is that I will recognize it “again.”
The chorus of Dave Matthews’s song pleads, “Gravedigger, when you dig my grave, can you make it shallow, so that I can feel the rain.” It is a young man’s request from someone who knows what is coming but simply cannot imagine it except on his own terms. I hope God’s contentious spirit moves me beyond that stage. Yeah.