When I was young – very young – I wanted to be older.
I remember how I looked forward to turning 16, so I could get my driver’s license. Wheels. It was 1956 and I bought my first car, a ’50 Ford coupe that had been in a front-end crash, so I got it for $125, money I earned working at Ralph Bishop’s take-out restaurant, and a Sunday paper route, and other odd jobs. I fixed the damaged front end myself and off I went.
How I loved that car! The freedom: time with the guys, and time alone with girl friends.
Then I looked forward to 21. I started teaching high school at 22, and I wanted to be older–to feel entitled to more respect from my 17 and 18 year old students. I went into ministry at age 30, and I looked forward to being 50, when my older congregants would see me as mature.
When I turned 60 I looked for a reverse gear, but the wheels of Life move only forward. I thought of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. He says, “When I was a child I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became a man I gave up childish ways.”
When I hit 60 I stopped wanting to be older. For awhile I befriended Mr. Denial and together we refused to accept the new number. I hadn’t willed or wanted it! The family gave me a party and they didn’t invite my new-found friend – they pasted the number 60 all over the place, including the cake! They bought me a pinball machine, which helped me pretend I was a kid again. It pleased me. We put it in the basement where I could be alone with Mr. Denial.
In my mid-60’s I got Medicare, which pleased me. Sort of. I got a long-term care insurance policy, reluctantly. Then in my late-60’s I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, which certainly did not please me, but I was glad to be on Medicare. Funny how that works. That’s when I started to look at this thing we call aging. I found myself seeing older people with a different pair of eyes – eyes that break through the denial and hold up mirrors. Mr. Denial moved away.
The word retirement started popping up like Jack-in-the-box, all over the place. It came with a big smile in financial-planning ads, and a more serious face in life-insurance ads, and happy-sounding ads telling me ‘how to have a wonderful retirement.’ Everywhere I turned it seemed that the word retirement was taking aim at me and I found myself playing dodge ball, again, as we did on the playground at Gleason School in West Medford in the 1940’s.
Psalm 90 says, “The days of our years are threescore and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”
I have a replica of the ’50 Ford coupe in my office, as a reminder that I was once 16, and glad of it. I’ve had my ‘threescore and ten,’ and though I no longer look forward to ‘being older,’ like I did as a child, I have a deepened appreciation for each day, and a heightened sense of satisfaction for the work that has nourished and challenged me – an appreciation for you.
Rollo May summarizes it nicely: “To love means to open ourselves to the negative as well as the positive – to grief, sorrow, and disappointment as well as to joy, fulfillment, and an intensity of consciousness we did not know was possible before.” Aging has its benefits – instead of wanting to be older we accept the fact we can’t get younger, so we ’kiss the joy as it flies.’