Archive for March, 2023


The Germans have a word that I ran across recently that captures perfectly a looming sense of anxiety that I feel as I grow older. The word is Torschlusspanick. Apparently, it is an archaic phrase from the middle ages that has never fallen out of use. That fact suggests that the wort captures a timeless concept. TSP (as I will abbreviate it) is a typically Teutonic compound of three words: Tor [TOHR], meaning gate; Schluss [SHLOOSE], meaning shut; Panick [PAHN-ick] cognate with the English word “panic.”   Wikidictionary suggests that the word originally alluded to the anxiety felt by peasants working outside the walls of medieval castles who faced the prospect of the gate closing at the end of the day leaving them trapped outside the protection of the Schloss [fortress].

As I slide past my 76th birthday and consult the actuarial tables of life expectancy for males of my seniority, I realize that the gate is beginning to close on my life.  As I read the table (10.75 average life expectancy for US males age 76) I hear—metaphorically—the creaking of the door on its hinges. That other high-pitched noise is my geriatric tinnitus. I have learned to ignore that sound for the most part. I have another more personal gauge of my life expectancy since I share about 50% of my DNA with my Dad, a smoker for decades, whom I meet in the mirror daily when I look at my reflection. He died 21 March 2008 at age 88 years 7 months. My mother flamed out at an age 71 years 10 months. She died of the long-term effects of asthma. Dad was felled by a stroke. Forewarned is fore-prepared. So I have avoided for the most part the damage of smoking that compromised Mom’s breathing, except for the second-hand smoke of my 1950s home, and I am diligent to take my 81 mg of aspirin to reduce the potential for blood clots. Indeed, scratches that bleed profusely and clot slowly give me hope that the risk of stroke is as mitigated as I and medical science can make it.


Nevertheless, I cannot shake the sense of dread that I am running out of time. There are many projects that I still desire to complete. Notably is the basement build-out of our mountain home in Colorado. Like many people, I was forced to push back the completion date because of the Covid-19 pandemic of 2019-2021. I see the shadows lengthening in my life, as I age, and my stamina wanes and I begin to wonder if I will see the completion of the project—at least complete enough for the utilization of the new spaces. Then, I am struck by the recollection that my Dad was in the middle of installing in his church’s parking lot a security light with its 20 foot pole when he began to have symptoms of his ultimately fatal stroke. He had, by hand, dug the hole for the pouring of the pad for the pole. I heard without surprise that he could not rest easily (on his death bed as it turned out) before he communicated to his helper what the remaining steps were in his project. I am likewise so wired, I fear.

I tried to shutter these thoughts but as I was returning to my neighborhood I was passed by an ambulance that pulled up in front of a neighbor’s house. Subsequently, I learned that the elderly couple (perhaps no older than I) were going to the hospital for treatment of a health crisis. Seconds after seeing the flashing lights I turned on the street adjacent to my lane to glimpse a large, mature tree, past its prime cut down at the root. Surely, it had leaves to put forth and seeds to drop in the coming spring. But No!  The gate clanged shut upon its plans and it is remembered now only by a stump. So how shall I live knowing that I have only about a decade or two remaining on this earth? I am still working out the answer. But of these few thoughts I am sure: I must continue to live until the end. No quitting before the finish line. I resolve to rejoice in small achievements. These may be a kind word spoken to a stranger or friend, a happy playdate with a grandson that says “You are loved and worthy of love” more than just words can articulate; it may be a bit of wisdom shared, a story written down; a fact of history uncovered and documented. It may be a well mitered joint, or a simple project completed. Or it may be a simple pleasure of a cup of coffee or a sun rise (or sun set) or viewing the stars in the black sky over a mountain.


Someone once said, “You will be amazed at how little you can accomplish in a day, and how much can be done in a lifetime of days.” So I resolve to rejoice in every day I have, to treasure each dawn, but not to morn its passing like a teenager pouting all Sunday afternoon at the prospect of returning to school on Monday. Joyful diligence must suffice. Faithfulness and perseverance must stand in for “success” and “accomplishment.”

Thus, perhaps I can finish well and peacefully leave off my doing when the door swings closed at last.

Read Full Post »