Ageing - A Series of Reflections

Blog 17 Image Ageing 5 That was the river 0ct 25Part 5. That was the River: This is the Sea. Learning from a popular song-lyric: There is a song entitled: “This is the Sea”, composed by lyricist and song-writer Mike Scott, lead singer of the Waterboys, which has made a strong impression on me.  I first heard it one Sunday morning, when the Welsh singer Tom Jones was being interviewed on radio at the launch of his latest album “Surrounded by Time.” Jones had been silent for some years in the wake of his wife’s death whom he deeply grieved. Realising that he is now in his eighties, he is struck with a new sense of his life “surrounded by time. “He is aware of the long fruitful innings he has enjoyed as a well-respected singer for over forty years. So, he selects songs for his new, and perhaps final album, with a renewed level of consciousness.


One of his selected songs struck a chord in me, as it did for several of my contemporaries, also in advanced years. The song, “This is the Sea”, marks a moment of realisation. It speaks of the journey of life using the metaphor of a river, which we see progressing in a purposeful well-defined direction, stretching itself out into the future, exploring the landscape as it flows. And then comes the mind-blowing moment; a life- transition! A change occurs as the river of life begins to evolve towards the immensity of the ocean. The refrain, repeated at the end of each stanza, worms its way into the soul.

Looking back through the words of the song, we see the trajectory of the river of life, until a new reality beckons, the sea! It is time to waken up, to open our eyes to a new reality. It is time to “turn our back on our soulless days;” days gobbled up by busyness. The song reminds us:

Once you were tethered,

Well now you are free.

That was the river,

This is the sea.

Mistakes have been made, plans have gone awry, yet we look back at times when we sailed along, filled with our own self- importance, “running around banging your drum. like it was 1973!” “Well, that was the river, this is the sea! “

A kind of despair may set in. We search in vain for answers we thought we once had. We rake over our memories for the key to solve our questions. But that was the river of achievement, and this is the sea of the unknown!

Confusion may set in, like a war inside our heads. In vain we try to make sense of our lack of direction and we long for a time when everything was clear. But that was the River, and this is the Sea!

There’s an inevitability about the final verse which reminds us that there’s a symbolic train coming down the line. Not surprisingly, we all have a free ticket on this train, and we’ve still got time to catch it. It will bring us to our ultimate destination! “Behold the sea!”

This song catches me in the throat. I may not understand it fully, though I repeat it often. What I do understand is that these two great metaphors have a strong appropriateness to hold and embrace life’s journey: The direct, purposeful, unquestioning path of the river and the immense and awesome mystery of the sea. Eternity beckons with a shock of self- awareness.

A second wave of thought approaches. This moment of stopping in our tracks makes me consciously aware of my new vocation to live my advanced years as fully as possible. There is a call for initiation-rite into this new era. No such ritual exists. As professional religious women we could create one. We are exceptionally qualified to do so. As the philosopher Rumi says:” our sacks are filled with the sacred.” We have lived long years tending the sacred. We could create a space to pool our resources, share our wisdom and help each other understand the greatness of this vocation now entrusted to us: to be a living source of wisdom and generativity for a world that so sorely needs it. We can be the spiritual elders of society.

by Úna Agnew SSL