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Aging and Shedding

The Lord said to Moses, “What do you have in your hand?”

“A walking stick,” he said.

The Lord said, “Throw it on the ground.”

So, Moses threw it on the ground. It turned into a snake. He ran away from it.

Exodus 4:2-3

With great excitement, my husband asked, “Want to see a snake shedding its skin?”

“Sure,” I answered with as much interest as I could muster. I wasn’t particularly keen about viewing such a spectacle, but because Greg was apparently fascinated, I wanted to give him my support.

Since Greg had been outdoors mowing the lawn, I suspected that the shedding serpent had been spotted somewhere near the tree line behind our house. I was wrong. The snake had chosen the heat of our back deck on which to shed his skin. We found him half-naked, coiled next to the door that opened onto the screened-in porch. Much too close for comfort.

“Isn’t it cool?” Greg asked.

“GREG,” I yelled, “GET RID OF IT!” He looked at me perplexed, as if I had totally missed the point of the experience, which was to watch a snake shed its skin.

“I’M SERIOUS!” I yelled.

Reluctantly, and rather slowly, Greg turned toward the shed while I watched the slippery creature pulse its long shaft to extricate its outer skin. It wasn’t pretty, but it was interesting.

I sometimes wish I could shed my outer skin with its growing number of age spots that don’t respond to anti-aging creams and wrinkles that seem to evolve overnight. In my brain, I’m only 40, maybe 50, but the mirror doesn’t lie. Neither does my body. I’m 62 and painfully aware of my body’s physical decline.

Snakes, I’ve come to learn, shed their skin a few times each year, whenever they outgrow it. Their skin doesn’t stretch with them like human skin, and the entire molting process can take one to two weeks to complete. Understandably, it can be stressing for a creature to endure. But when it’s over, it looks like a new snake!

That’s not how it is with us humans. We dye our hair to look younger, work out to maintain muscle, and try to stay current with fashion trends … but we never look like new humans. At best, we look like hip senior citizens.

King Solomon wrote about aging in Ecclesiastes as he looked back on his life.

In old age, your body no longer serves you so well. Muscles slacken, grip weakens, joints stiffen. The shades are pulled down on the world. You can’t come and go at will. Things grind to a halt. The hum of the household fades away. You are wakened now by bird-song. Hikes to the mountains are a thing of the past. Even a stroll down the road has its terrors. Your hair turns apple-blossom white, Adorning a fragile and impotent matchstick body. Yes, you’re well on your way to eternal rest, While your friends make plans for your funeral.

Life, lovely while it lasts, is soon over. Life as we know it, precious and beautiful, ends. The body is put back in the same ground it came from. The spirit returns to God, who first breathed it. (12:3-7, The Message)

I can’t say I find this passage comforting, but I do find it accurate. Solomon appears to have regrets. Do I? I wonder if given the opportunity to live my life over again, would I take it? Would I shed this skin and start anew? Would I trade in the wrinkles and gray hair for a younger version of myself and give up the wisdom I’ve acquired in return?

Greg returned from the shed with a hoe. I shuddered to think of him chopping the snake’s head off, if indeed that’s what he planned to do. Snakes are useful. They eat insects and rodents, and there were plenty of those in our backyard. Also, this snake was struggling to get out of a suit that no longer fit; he was vulnerable, weak. How many times had I put on a dress that no longer fit and wiggled uncomfortably to get it off?

Without taking my eyes off the serpent (who also hadn’t taken his eyes off me), I told Greg to put the hoe away and grab me a pair of gloves. I would take him to the woods. He was big. He was old. He was a snake with a history. I identified with this snake. If it had hair, it would be completely gray. Proverbs 16:31 states, “Gray hair is crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.”

Growing old is not for the weak. It’s hard. Since I can’t shed my skin, I’m going to lean into the aging process, let my hair go gray, take life one day at a time, and surround myself with family and friends who look beyond my age spots and wrinkles. And I pray I won't get thrown into the woods.

FULL DISCLOSURE: The photo above is a year old. I returned the snake to the woods last summer. So far, there has been no sign of him in our backyard this year.

THE SONG THAT COMES TO MIND is Perfectly Loved by Rachael Lampa with TobyMac.

Favorite lyric: “Who said that you weren’t beautiful and that you didn’t belong in your own skin?”

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