On September 15 I turned 91, almost astonishing myself. I ponder at what I have learned since I set aside my teaching assignment. Methuselah’s thoughts on his 969th birthday were probably more profound, but here are a few of mine:
1. Life insurance companies want nothing to do with anyone over age 85; in fact, they refuse to accept applications after that age. On the other hand, drug companies relish the thought that I may be living on and on, maybe longer than Methuselah. They want my business.
2. By the time I am gone the younger generations will no longer know how to converse with one another. Their hands are always busy with some electronic device but their tongues are mute. I recall visiting with a family group about ten years ago. I had flown to the site to be with them, but they sat in the living room, each busy their device. I wondered why I had come. And if, in the future, colleges will be offering courses in “Learning to converse.” I wonder also if cursive writing is really a thing of the past and people will scramble to find someone to read a handwritten letter as if it was a foreign language.
3. At my age you get thrown into one general category: old, yet my only resemblance to my-age people is that we have experienced more and have more physical problems than a younger group. We’re very different though we’re treated like a box of factory-cut soda crackers, same size, same shape, same taste. I want to rebel.
4. We are encouraged to get out more, to enjoy our friends, yet most of our friends are gone. Many days when I check the obituaries, I find the name of another one. Life gets thin when it comes to friends at this time of life and getting out becomes more difficult.
5. Talk about death and dying is uncomfortable for many people, yet it is hard for me to dismiss that I have only limited years ahead. I’ve lived a long life, a good life. Why? The Old Testament saints honored their fathers and mothers wanted a long life to have more years to worship God, their maker and redeemer. I’d like to talk more openly about death and dying but I get few takers. People discuss wills and estates, medical problems, and housing issues, but not death, a four-letter word with five letters.
6. Old people spend a lot of time waiting, waiting on God, waiting for someone to take us places we’d rather not go to and those we would. Little old ladies, in particular, because there’s more of them than old men, do a lot of waiting on benches, on chairs, on fancy walkers, alongside walls, in medical offices. But I find that’s the time for watching people.
7. Things that clutter my shelves and fill my closets have less importance at this time in life than they did when I was collecting them. It’s just stuff. It’s easier to give away. Television programs seem more vapid. I get weary with advertisers’ attempts to persuade me to buy; organizations, including church bodies to give to attend. They use the same slick, glossy marketing tactics. When they all begin to look alike it is easy to disregard them. Call it overkill, maybe compassion fatigue.
8. I tell myself it is still important to have goals, even if only small ones, in order to hang onto life even though I am no longer caught up in the mainstream of life, but standing on a mountaintop looking back, as life as a whole--the valleys, steep climbs, hairpin turns, and wonderful green plateaus. And recognizing there is still a distance to climb.
9. I need to be reminded regularly that God is where I am, in my apartment, in my smaller circle of friends, in my narrower range of activities. Yet it is hard to find someone to share my spiritual discoveries about how God relates to us would-be Methuselahs, small as they may be.
10. It takes courage to grow old, to be brave enough to accept a flawed world with its excessive violence, unrest, and loss of a moral compass, yet cling to ideals and hang onto an inner core of beliefs and values. It is important to hang onto faith, to trust, and not be afraid.
I am grateful to God for giving me a good long life, and though I ask, “Why grow old?” the alternative is not as inviting – not yet. If I live many more years, I’ll appeal to Methuselah for advice. He probably had more to say. In a few years, I will also. So I keep trucking.