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Happily, my copy of Helen M. Luke’s classic, Old Age: Journey into Simplicity survived several thinnings of my bookcase. First purchased in 2012, I highlighted significant passages, filled margins with stars and exclamation points that evidence past AHHHs! However, such richness must have surfeited my taste because of the unread essays on Shakespeare’s Prospero and T. S. Eliot’s Little Gidding—To return to a later time, I probably told myself, when calmed down.

That time only came now. Well on the cusp of old age, Luke’s material resonates with my diminishments. Her lifelong play with unseen realities, beneficent and dark, bear the imprint of her Zurich training as a Jungian analyst; she has been through the mill and knows of what she speaks in the concluding chapter on Suffering.

Only life’s untoward barbs constitute authentic suffering; it bruises the psyche, offers course corrections, and deepens wisdom, humility, and honesty. Acceptance is key to this grief process, with its changes. Pseudo-suffering, its opposite, provokes whining, holds out for quick fixes, and pines for robotic living shielded by denial’s comfort. Only authentic suffering builds character that does not diminish, that we carry into the next life.

Her conclusion speaks: When suffering breaks through the small personal context and exposes man to the pain and darkness of life itself, the way is opened to that ultimate state of passion…There completely emptied, as Christ was when He cried, ”My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me,” he may finally come to be filled with the wholeness of God Himself.

For this, I long.

 

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