CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Life and Faith for the Years of Winter
I tried to keep my 80th birthday a secret. I wasn’t ashamed of being 80. I just didn’t know how to deal with it. What does it mean, to be that old?
I knew it could not be a total secret, of course. There are people who know the date. But I wanted to keep it low-key. That turned out to be impossible, because one of the persons who knows that date is Helen. She decided, while ostensibly going along with my idea of no party and gifts primarily of donations to The Interfaith Winter Shelter, that I should receive greetings of some sort—card, letter, Facebook, email—from everyone I have ever known, and some I have never even met. She also put my favorite yellow roses on the altar at church, with a note in the bulletin about whose birthday those roses honored and which birthday it was.
I was not chagrined that my plans went awry. Most of my plans go awry or away. Instead, it was wonderful, to hear from so many friends, to share so many good memories. Perhaps the best gift of all is to have a wife who knows what you need better than you know yourself. I was still befuddled by that number, 80, though. What does it mean, to be that old?
After listening to the sermon of our pastor, Jimmy Moore, yesterday, I began to realize why I resisted dealing with my 80th birthday. I was unconsciously afraid not of change, but of NOT changing.
Granted, old people have good reasons to be reluctant about change. Most of the changes that happen to us are not good. We slow down, forget stuff, can’t find stuff, break stuff, drop stuff. After a stroke, my friend, Tom, can’t read the way he has always enjoyed so much. Because of a creeping nerve disease, my friend, Jack, can’t walk, and he always so much enjoyed getting around and doing. I don’t look forward to decreasing limits. It takes me five minutes longer to walk a mile than it took ten years ago. I don’t celebrate that.
I have seen friends take these changes and deal with them, though. There is strength available, at any age, to overcome changes for the worst. As we age, we have to live within changing limits, but we don’t have to be limited by them.
I have always looked forward to what came next, though. That’s why I’ve never particularly been afraid of death.
I have always looked forward to new places, new friends, new activities, new cars, new shoes. Our car is new enough, and our miles few enough, that we’ll probably never have another car. What’s the point of another plaid shirt when I don’t have room in our condo for all those I have already? What if there is nothing new after 80?
I think unconsciously I feared that 80 was some kind of turning point when there was nothing new to look forward to. But in church Sunday morning, Rev. Jimmy Moore claimed that is not true. He said that change is inevitable, and since it is, why not change for the better… or something like that.
Of course, he’s only 61, so what does he know? Wait ‘til you’re 80, Jimmy. Then you’ll…. well, you’ll be befuddled.
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