“Time marches away like a lost platoon/
We gracefully age as we feel the weight/
Of loving too late, and leaving too soon…”
— Mark Heard, “Strong Hand of Love”
Are you aging gracefully? Our culture often views us as locked in a pitched battle against aging. “Do not go gentle into that good night…” We are in a war against wrinkles, against sag, against girth, against time itself.
Or are we? Who’s selling this mindset to us, and why? Are they just pushing product?
Mark Heard, no one’s conception of a product-pushing musician, reframes the discussion. To quote another, more famous, song: time isn’t after us. It’s simply disappearing, Heard observes, like clockwork.
As the chastened people asked John the Baptist, and as Tolstoy later asked, “What then must we do?”
Heard responds not with war, but with grace:
1. We must gracefully age. What does that look like? It’s not a war posture, for sure. “Strong Hand of Love” focuses on the trials of the young throughout the song: a “tear on a youthful face,” “young dreamers” exploding emotionally. Graceful aging reaches out to the young, like Jesus; it does not condemn or mock them, let alone threaten them — as we have seen so much of recently.
2. Similarly, we love now, not later. We do not accept the rhetoric of war with regard to the passage of time. The “game face” we wear when we see aging as a one-on-one war against Time comes off. It’s hard to love in a time of war, especially when that war is against an enemy that isn’t even after us.
3. We acknowledge that we are indeed going to leave. Dreams of immortality are merely temptations, ultimately appealing to our lust for idolatry and our incestuous relationship with Self. And when the shot clock’s up, we will realize with shame that we loved others too little and too late. That is the weight we feel, the load that’s put right on me — and you.
As Heard states in another of his remarkable songs with regard to impending death, “And I will not have loved enough, could not have loved enough.” None of us will have done so, at that moment. We leave “too soon” in Heard’s view, not because we ‘deserved’ more time on the planet, but because we did not love enough within the time we ultimately had. Mark Heard knew this as a relatively young man, who like other wise young men we lamented in this anniversary year, didn’t make it much past the age of 40 — if at all. Those of us who have spent more time than this on the planet and who still do not understand this, we have no excuse. Seek wisdom, not merely self.
Age gracefully, then: mentor the young, lift them up as you sag down, love now, beware the temptations of excessive self-love, view time’s arrow as a pointer instead of a poisoned projectile. And perceive “the strong hand of love hidden in the shadows.”
Here’s Bruce Cockburn’s loving cover of “Strong Hand of Love,” on the tribute album to Mark Heard after his incredibly untimely death at age 40 in 1992: