Stages of Life

Our days may come to 70 years, or 80, if our strength endures.

Psalm 90:10

By Dr. Jim Ferguson

When I heard of my friend’s diagnosis and hospitalization, I thought, “I might never see him again.” There is no satisfaction knowing my prognostication proved correct. We are left with Hamlet’s observation: “He was a man, and we shall not see his likeness again.”

Becky and I live in the midst of a mature forest and routinely observe older trees dying for no apparent reason. I understand this is the natural order of things, but these are trees, not my friends. The writer of Ecclesiastes said there is a “time and place for everything.” And while that may be true, when death comes close, it hurts.

I recently wrote about cohorts, groups of people with similar characteristics. It seems my baby boomer cohort is aging out and we are succumbing to the inevitabilities of time, illness and death. There is an old adage that teenagers imagine themselves as immortal, if not bulletproof. Perhaps I once viewed myself as indestructible, but reality has supplanted that illusion. And now in my seventies and rapidly losing friends, it is inevitable to think about my own “crossing [of] the bar,” as Alfred Lord Tennyson once penned. Please google and read the poem.

While studying for my boards in geriatrics, I was introduced to a somewhat crass and philosophical observation: To an Irishman, death is imminent. To an Englishman, death is inevitable. But to an American, death is negotiable.

Medical science has advanced light years during my career. We have antibiotics, CAT and PET scans, and now designer drugs like monoclonal antibodies and kinase inhibitors which are advertised nightly on TV to treat cancer and many other diseases. But there is a finite limit to even advanced medical science and life.

Poets and philosophers, such as the Teacher in Ecclesiastes, the apostle Paul, John Donne (“no man is an island”), and Tennyson teach us much about death and “shuffling off this mortal coil” (Shakespeare). But experience is the ultimate teacher of life, loss and death.

It’s hard to write about these inevitable aspects of life without appearing insensitive. But am I being insensitive to the aging process if I acknowledge and write about what’s happening to me? Shakespeare indelicately wrote of the seven stages of life in his play “As You Like It.” Others have written about the seasons of life. I envision myself in the late autumn, still with colorful verbiage as my fall foliage.

Becky and I have talked about end-of-life issues and have Durable Powers of Attorney for healthcare. And so should you. I told her when I die, I want Leo Buscaglia’s book, “The Fall of Freddy the Leaf” read to my grandchildren. If you’ve never read this wonderful little book, you must.

Throughout my life, I traveled extensively, but no longer do so because I decided “I’m not going anywhere because I’m already there.” Perhaps I have one trip left in me because I’ve talked Becky into a trip to Iceland. Stay tuned.

I also imagine my life as a travel analogy. When I was young, I packed my bags with an education, then hustled to the airport with Becky for our adventures. We soared into the stratosphere of life and cruised to five continents while raising a family. I am now on the way “home,” but I have not yet begun the descent and landing at my final destination. That’s just as well because I’m told they do not publish The Knoxville Focus in heaven.

We all want a long life and a good life. But, if I were forced to choose, I would select the latter over the former. My family learned much from my mother-in-law, who lived long and well. However, as the ravages of aging past 100 took their toll, Joanna told us that “No one should live this long.”

Western culture idolizes youthfulness. That is a mistake when considering wisdom. I once read that many scientific discoveries occur early in a researcher’s professional life. Perhaps this occurs because the mind is more nimble then. We are more flexible in youth, and perhaps less influenced by orthodoxy. During my education and early practice years, I acquired a lot of facts which I organized into a compendium of workable knowledge. However, experience brings wisdom, the discernment of how and when to apply that knowledge.

Asian cultures are said to respect the acquired wisdom of the aged more so than Western culture. While this may be changing, the older members of Asian families are historically respected and honored, even venerated.

In America I think we have missed the mark as we celebrate youthfulness without wisdom and as we watch our aged leaders struggle with dementia and debility. It seems to me we should have leadership from those who have “skin in the game” and from those who have lived long enough to acquire wisdom and not yet lost it. It’s difficult to measure capability, but Vivek Ramaswamy has lived long enough, has a track record of business success and has not aged out like Biden, McConnell or Feinstein. And the utterly vacuous Kamala Harris and the poster-child John Fetterman are incapable of leading anyone.

Ageism is a term that describes discrimination based solely on someone’s age. President Trump is vigorous at 77 years old, battles Democrat “haters” and still wins golf tournaments. Can you believe that he was attacked because he’s a good golfer? The self-described tolerant bunch is actually the haters among us. And we’ve seen what happens when haters choose personality over policy.

Granted, people were duped by the corrupt media and Joe Biden’s lies. Obviously, Trump was indelicate and sometimes boorish. People wanted to believe Ol’ Joe was like a kind old uncle. One “friend” said, “He’s such a nice man.” No, Joe’s demented, a fraud, a liar, and the head of his family’s cartel. And with Democrat election engineering along with hatred stoked by the threatened Washington ruling class and media, America wrongly chose personality over policy with disastrous consequences.

Democrats and Biden have damn near destroyed America. If someone wants to ruin themselves with alcohol, drugs and poor decisions, I believe rational adults should be afforded the freedom to destroy themselves. But no one has the right to destroy others or make decisions that harm our children and grandchildren. This is reprehensible.

If you want to fix the mess of the broken Washington, D.C., system, send the wrecking ball back as president. And if you’re still voting for Democrats, God help you and the rest of us.