“To everything, turn, turn, turn…” The Byrds, 1968
Reflections on getting on in age
I’m sure that many of you have heard of the PBS television series, “Antique Road Show.” If you haven’t, let me give you a snapshot of its presentation: a team of antique experts wanders from city to city in the USA, inviting people from the location to present artifacts, furniture and other treasures for evaluation and dollar calculation. Once an appraisal is made, the expert will then tell the individual or family what the “piece” is worth in open auction. Most times, the owner of the family heirloom or possession is told that their assumed “priceless” treasure is worth no more than a cup of Starbucks coffee. At times though, it’s one item that catches the auctioneer’s attention and the news of its high dollar value is shared with the owner with delight. Lovers of the show, at least I’m told, squeal in these moments and begin to carefully scheme how they too will one day discover immeasurable treasure buried deep within the bowels of the stack of goods they own. The point of the show is this, MOST older “antiques” are essentially useless. There are a few, and I underscore few, that end up having some sort of worth on the open market. Actually, friends, I’ve only seen a couple of episodes of this show during my life…I’d rather drink a glass of Liquid Plummer than watch another if you know what I mean.
This month, I’ll be turning the “young” age of 65. Getting older is surprisingly easy but enlightening. I look at the mirror on a day to day basis either to shave, clip my ever-growing eyebrows, or simply to be able to see how much more my face is deteriorating with a sense of inevitable resignation. Most of us, I know it’s true for me, never believe that we will get old like “those people” – what we see wandering through the halls of Long-term care facilities, buying a cheap meal at a local fast food place, or who are addicted to antique television presentations. They park in the handicap slots at the store, slowly wander through the aisles many times appearing lost at times. I know for me, I smile at most and have often offered to help many. I was always taught to respect my elders something that I do with ease.
Yet, I never see myself in their skin. I know intellectually that it is my future in one way or another but it never occurs to me that I’ll be donning the same outfit one day myself. Those “clothes” don’t fit my mental picture of myself. And although the march of time continues to drone on and the days that pass are more like check marks on a growing “to-do” list of accomplishments more than a reality that I eventually need to embrace, I’d rather live in my dream world believing that I and I alone have bathed in the fountain of youth.
I don’t feel older. Most older people that I know feel EXACTLY the same way. Yet, I know I am getting older because the guy looking at me in my mirror has a similarity to someone I know very well, but I still don’t recognize him completely. Even so, deep down in my “denial focused” heart, I know that’s me. I also feel the inevitable pains of the passage of time in the body I have been given as a gift. I wish the Lord would have given me a time table of what to expect as this aspect of my individuality and personhood starts to show wear and tear. It may have been helpful to have a warranty, like that of a car, to know how time much I could expect from my transmission and suspension. My “power train” is still showing some life but the brakes and body are simply not working the way they were originally designed. My problem is that I can’t find a good mechanic who can put slap something new on and give me better performance. All I can do is continue to live day by day with the realization that I’m out of warranty.
The “wheels” of my legs are in need of some serious overhaul…gout has deteriorated my toe joints, old basketball wounds cause my ankles and knees to be looser than is healthy, my shoulders don’t work because of countless swimming and surfing strokes, my skin (as my new dermatologist just told me two weeks ago) will continue to have to be analyzed for “issues” because of all that damn sunlight that I was addicted to for years during my younger days. It takes more work to stay healthy, I have to deny more and more types of food because they are increasingly bad for me, and the piles of vitamins and other medications that I take will soon equal the height of Mt. Everest. I was told a few years back that I couldn’t qualify for a job because I was a “50-year-old white guy” and I know that a few of my resumes have been used for “wastebasket basketball practice” simply because the employer looked at my birth date. Oh, what a world.
Seriously though, it is easy to get old. The hours and days pass gracefully without thought or intentionality. Although I still recognize parts of myself in photos and videos, there is an increasing resignation to the inevitable truth. I guess the issue that bothers me to the most has to do with culture’s worship of the young. Why we do that is beyond me and definitely beyond my pay grade. Other cultures in the world revere those with higher mileage. We in the western world look at a person’s odometer and start to theorize, quantify, and plan on the soon to be obsolescence based upon some mechanistic and utilitarian criteria. I’m getting a new computer this coming year and I realized long ago that electronics manufacturers conspiratorially plotted its demise. I feel like it is just a matter of time before society does the same to me…wise or not, educated or not, vital or not, energetic or not, willingness to produce or not…I’ll still, one day, will be deemed obsolete.
Well, society and culture be damned. I’m going to offer what I can despite the fact that my body is looking more like a melting candle day by day. I still have thoughts that need to be expressed, music that needs to be played, sermons to preach, studies to teach, love to give, laughs to inspire, books that need to be read and gifts that I can share…whether anyone wants to appreciate them will be up to them. I’ve always envied women for culture’s sensitivity to inquiring about a woman’s age. As many of you know, it is wiser to NOT ask a woman how old she is after she has reached adulthood than to do otherwise. I’ve tasted my foot in my mouth more times than I care to admit because I ventured into that forbidden territory. I find myself, when asked, fudging a bit on answering the question, “how old are you?” I was fine saying 40…I’m getting apprehensive about answering with the words, “well, uh, 65.”
But the days keep going by and, as a good book and therapist taught me years ago, its hard and deadly to deny reality. What the coming days hold is in no one else’s hand than a God I know, who loves me and sees my priceless worth. That brings me hope. For the rest of the world, you are just going to have to deal with my fuzzy head hairline, sagging waddle under my chin, and my inability to look more “chiseled” no matter how many workouts I do per week. I’ll be ordering more salads, thank you! And maybe I’ll be drinking a few more glasses of wine because I’d rather celebrate life than whine about it (oh, that was clever, huh?). No matter who assesses what they see in my life, I know many people (at least I think I do) who really don’t care how the culture appraises my life. For many that give my life meaning, they aren’t surprised when some “antique” assessor says I’m not as valuable as they think I am. That’s Ok…my children, grandkids and friends who are walking this journey with me have not put me in some basement or shelf in the garage as of yet. When they do, I guess I’ll just have to accept it and make a home there. After all, I’ve been through, that basement or often ignored shelf won’t be that bad of a home. By then, I’ll probably not be able to walk up the stairs or find the energy or where with all to get off the shelf. Priceless or not, I’m going to be around until my number is up. And that is only in the Lord’s hands…thank goodness.