Do old men have dreams?" asked Jeanette as she watched her 88-year-old father through the window of the cottage they rented for a week in the Rockies.
Bill Richards was standing alone on the deck looking at the natural majesty around him. It was dusk. The last vestiges of daylight were slipping behind a snow-capped mountain in the distance. It was the end of another day of more than 32,000 previous days that had passed in Bill's long life. There was something sad yet symbolic in the scene.
"Are you asking whether old people dream in their sleep?" I asked. "No," Jeanette replied. "Do they have dreams, goals, things they still imagine or want to do?"
Jeanette's question was unanswerable, silly really, because everybody is different. We all have met old people who have given up on life while others celebrate every day to their last breath. (That's not unique to the old. I have met people half Mr. Richards' age who have given up on life while others explore everything living has to offer.)
At the root of Jeanette's question was sadness at seeing her once strong and vibrant father fading. Was she projecting her sadness on to him?
Perhaps Mr. Richards was not sad at all and was merely enjoying the beautiful scene that stretched out before him. Or possibly God was speaking to him in the midst of the natural world as day turned to night. If that was the case, then the real question was not "Do old men dream?" but rather "Do old men still listen for that small voice within them that they heard clearly as children?"
Jeanette was struck by a metaphor and the poignancy of the image before her. It was a moment that brought her underlying sadness to the surface. She was reminded that her beloved father was fading in extreme age, just like the day was fading to night. It broke her heart for she could not bring herself to think of life without him. Mercifully, his extreme age was preparing her for the inevitable.
Bill Richards' wife of more than 60 years died a few years ago and he misses her terribly. He still lives in their home. His arthritis is controlled as is his heart condition. His grandson cuts the grass in summer and shovels the snow in the winter. His daughter often visits and takes him places.
By all accounts, Mr. Richards is a fortunate man. He has lived a good life and is well cared for in his old age.
Even Mr. Richards' 88 years is a brief span of time. The Bible says a man's life is like a mist that appears for a little while then vanishes (James 4.14). Sts. Paul and Peter spoke of our bodies as tents - temporary abodes. Our permanent home is in heaven. Life here is a preparation for the world to come. Mr. Richards cannot escape this reality but neither can any of us.
If Mr. Richards dies in peace and reconciliation with God, through faith in Jesus Christ, he can joyfully anticipate the resurrection of the body (as he confesses in the Apostle's Creed). He can rest in confidence knowing that Christians have always believed in the resurrection of the body and reunited with the human soul at the final resurrection.
The Catholic Church teaches: "We firmly believe, and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives forever, so after death the righteous will live forever with the risen Christ and he will raise them up on the last day" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 989).
This resurrection of the dead is not figurative or wishful thinking. Just as Jesus was physically raised from the dead so shall those who die with their faith in Christ. Their immortal souls continue after death and their mortal flesh will come alive again at the resurrection and be reunited with the soul in a glorified state.
Those whose bodies here on earth are degenerating, either by disease or age, can look forward to this. We shall be restored and live in glory with our Saviour. On this truth I stand with the Church in joyful anticipation.
On that day when Bill Richards was watching the sun set in the Rocky Mountains, God may have been talking through creation to him: "The sun sets, Bill, but it also rises."