The Autumn of Life

The Autumn of Life

By the Rev. Lawrence Crumb, Vicar of St. Andrew’s, Cottage Grove.

September includes the autumnal equinox, the beginning of the fall season. I am reminded of a very beautiful choral work by Johannes Brahms entitled “Im Herbst” (“In the Autumn”). It is not just about falling leaves, but also about the autumn of life.

The autumn of life is often thought of as something negative, especially in a youth-oriented society such as ours. It does not have to be so. As people live longer, it may be easier to think of the years after retirement in a more positive way: taking on a new hobby, or pursuing an old one to a greater degree; mentoring children or visiting shut-ins; writing, painting, or travelling.

For those no longer able to be active, a greatly appreciated contribution can be made, simply by a calm and cheerful presence. I once heard of a nun who had been very active, but finally reached a point where that was no longer possible. She became very depressed, until someone pointed out that she could have a ministry of prayer for others.

When I was ordained to the priesthood I went first to assist in a parish of over a thousand members. I learned their names by praying for them on a monthly rotation. (Now that I am in a small congregation, I can do so on a weekly basis.) One of the people who helped me most was an elderly woman who was already in the hospital when I arrived, and remained there until she died several months later. I saw her two or three times a week, and she became a kind of surrogate grandmother as well as a great source of information about the town where she had lived all her life. She had been active in many ways and now felt useless, but she made a great contribution to the beginning of my ministry.

The famous anthropologist Margaret Mead* once said that she had never known anyone who worked with the mind and regretted growing old. We can’t all work with the mind as she and her colleagues did, but we can all make a contribution in one way or another. And it will always be valued by someone.

*Mead’s first husband was Luther Cressman, an Episcopal priest who left the ministry and taught anthropology at the University of Oregon for many years. He found evidence of early humans in Oregon.