I was recently hit by a trio of insults regarding my age. Let me just say that for the purposes of this column, you don’t need to know how old I am. It is none of your business. (OK, if you must know, my age has a 4 and a 6 in it, but I’m not 46). But back to my triple humiliation (have you noticed how older people digress in their storytelling?). First, my 5-year-old grandson recently asked my wife, “Grandma, when will you be old and wrinkled like Papa?” Bless his little heart. If he weren’t so cute, I’d slip some Metamucil in his kid’s yogurt.
That same week, I was making a nursing home visit, and a resident looked at me and barked, “Hey, old man, come look at my coin collection!” And then, shortly after that, as if all of creation had conspired to crush me, I was chatting with a lady about her homebound mother. The daughter said cheerfully, “Mom likes you. She’s always liked older men.”
At that point, I had a choice. I could either give up, call the funeral home, make my arrangements, fold my arms and give up the ghost. Or I could write this column as a way of therapy, hoping for some sympathy from my readers.
As a way of processing my pain, I thought about trying my hand at a popular approach: Five ways you know you’re getting old. 1) When nurses and wait staff begin calling you “Hun.” 2) When all of the bank tellers look like 8th graders and their supervisors still have acne. 3) When all the actors on TV talk too fast. 4) When you read the obituaries before the sports page. 5) I can’t remember the last one.
I’m not moved by notions of “growing old gracefully.” Someone once said that we grow old with the grace of a polar bear on roller skates. Amen. I think part of my dilemma is that life is going by too quickly. Where did it go? About the time you can reach the cookie jar, you can’t afford the calories. And about the time your face clears up, your mind gets fuzzy.
I take some comfort in the fact that, according to the biblical narratives, God did many great things through older people. I especially warm to the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Verse seven says they were both advanced in years. If I understand that Greek word “advanced,” it was also used to describe someone who goes ahead of others, to scout the way. I like that image. Aging is advance work for younger generations. Maybe that’s why I enjoy mentoring others during this season of my life. Bob Buford writes that the first half of our life is about striving for success while the second one focuses on significance (see his book, Halftime). Again, note my attraction to discipleship and pouring my life into young leaders.
I feel better after writing this. “Old” is just a word. I’m fine. But be warned. If some salesperson knocks on my door tonight, offering to sell me a funeral plan, I might become violent.