By Bill Webb
Every 10 years, I write a column reflecting on making it to an age that ends in zero. By the time the current issue of Word & Way is delivered to the home of each subscriber, I will have reached what some irreverent little smarty-pants might call “the big 6-0.”
I believe I have coasted into my 60s without undo fretting. Family, colleagues and friends are aware that I have celebrated the 60th anniversary of my birth, but none have unnecessarily kidded or ridiculed me about this life threshold. Maybe that is because I’ve been practicing that old sports adage: “A good offense is your best defense.”
When I forget something or write a column containing an unfortunate typo, I have simply reminded people of my encroaching age.
When I can’t hear exactly what someone is saying to me, I have long excused my auditory shortcomings with a reference to my advancing years and the request, “Could you repeat that for me, please? They say that when you get older, your hearing is one of the first things to go.”
At a fast-food counter one morning recently, I had just ordered one of those little breakfast burritos when I thought I heard the young lady ask if I wanted one or two sausages with that. “Hmmm, I didn’t know I had a choice,” I responded. She repeated the original question: “Do you want one or two sauces with that?” I smiled weakly, held up one finger and quickly shuffled to my car with my burrito and one packet of hot sauce in hand.
Bill Dudley, pastor of First Baptist Church in St. Robert, Mo., forwarded the obituary of a long-time Missouri pastor the other day. As we e-mailed back and forth briefly, Bill recounted the title of a sermon by an old college friend, evangelist Freddie Gage, “All My Friends Are Dead.” Gage reflected on his early days as a member of a Houston street gang and noted that many of his old friends had died violent deaths.
“Three years ago four of us pastors who were freshmen together … met with our wives … for a few days of fellowship and were discussing old friends, and I told the guys that we may have to borrow Freddie’s sermon since so many of our friends had also died,” Bill quipped in his e-mail.
Then my friend closed his message with this little pearl of wisdom: “Friends are precious, even those we disagree with!”
I told Bill that I am beginning to understand what he meant, because during recent years some of my contemporaries have passed away. Then I confessed my age to him. “At age 60, you are still young!” he chided. “I will be 74 in April.” I appreciated his attitude about my age. He has the right perspective.
My life is certainly different at age 60 than it was at 50, with new challenges and unexpected joys.
Today I deal with a few health issues. I have a bit of arthritis in my back, and a diagnosis of sleep apnea means I go to bed with a mask over my face. I control things like blood pressure and cholesterol levels with the help of my physician and pharmacist. I am counting on them to help me go another 40 years.
In many ways, my life has gotten even better since I turned 50. Ten years ago I did not have grandchildren. Today I have a pair of the finest grandsons you can imagine and a granddaughter on the way. My love for my wife and family have grown. I have made some new friends since I was 50. Indeed, Bill is right — friends are precious. Friendships and fellowship are worth cultivating and maintaining. I’ve never heard of anyone who has too many friends.
Surely one of the best things about moving up the age ladder is the opportunity to help the next generation learn how to grab hold of life with confidence and joy. For most of us believers, our models for living have been people out ahead of us, not those following us.
Young adults blaze the trail for adolescents, and older adults blaze the path for younger adults, etc. Mentors, models and heroes are made, not born. And the development of maturity, wisdom and insight usually takes time — and a few gray hairs.
If this is true, it is important as we grow older to be active, remain alert, keep learning and stay close to God. It would be sad to make a conscious decision to zone out of life at 75 (or any other age), for instance. None of us want friends and family to ever forget us, but surely we don’t want to become mere memories before we get to heaven.
Another friend recently gave me advice that I have chosen to embrace. Sixty is the new 50, or perhaps the new 40, he said. If I choose the latter, in another 10 years I guess I’ll have to go back and dust off my “big 5-0” column and run with it. Seventy will be the new 50 by then.