Monday, March 19, 2018

A Thought on Aging

Kit lived to span ninety-one years, surpassing her medical prognosis by seventy years. At eighty she could see better than she did at six, when she wore her first glasses. Her lifetime of fragile health later accumulated twenty-one aortic and renal stents, numerous heart-related procedures, congestive heart failure, and a back fusion with four titanium steel rods. She enjoyed more energy, better blood pressure, fewer complications, and far less pain but she did not expect to live this long. Her long journey of faith allowed her to face life with renewed vigor.

America has been aging! By 1985 25,000 Americans enjoyed life at 100-or-over.  Predictions called for more than a million by 2050, with Americans over sixty-five totalling more than the entire population of Canada.  One resource reported eighteen American children born daily to fathers over fifty-five and cautioned that seventy people over age sixty-five were picked up by the Police for disorderly conduct. Another anonymous wag described age as the top of a high mountain where the air is rare and blue, and after “a long hard climb one experiences a bit of fatigue but experiences a wonderful view.”

Howard McClusky, University of Michigan gerontologist, agreed that we should “not sell ourselves short” because he concluded we’re capable of far more than we think.    S. I. Hayakawa agreed “there is only one thing that age can give you, and that is wisdom.”

Tyron Edwards insisted “Age does not depend upon years,” rather, “some men are born old, and some never grow so.”  McClusky might be right in asking that we give up some of our stereotypes about aging and admit that we are actually better at sixty-five than some of us were at forty.

In 1776, only one American in fifty reached sixty-five. By 1900, life expectancy was forty-seven but increased to seventy-six.  Anyone reaching sixty-five by 1984 still had a life expectancy of 16.5 years and the expectancy was that within thirty-five years at least one in five would reach sixty-five. This suggested many of us should reasonably increase our life expectancy.

Aging is inevitable and I have met some whose spirit and influence I would like to maintain. Gladys was a chronologically gifted friend, a widow who lived well beyond ninety. Leaders in her community selected her as Senior of the Year during her eighth decade, because of her volunteer work at the Senior Center, the nursing home, the Auxiliary, and wherever she could assist. Many remembered her best as “The Cookie Lady.”

I watched with amazement as she worked four days a week at eighty-two; I saw her assist her grandson in building his pizza business. I felt her touch on my life as she served as a surrogate mother at eighty-five.  Becoming a frequent dinner companion to me at ninety allowed me to help Gladys with her menu, because of her incurable Glaucoma. She served as one of my most dependable prayer partners and steadfast parishioners in my last years as a pastor

Gladys was but one of many seniors exceeding their prime while continuing to make life’s passage fuller and richer for others. She was part of a national treasure that will have increased more than two and one-half times by 2030--sixty-five million souls we do well to cherish.

A useful illustration recalls a Sunday when the Pastor Emeritus spoke in the absence of the Senior Pastor. As he left the church that day, he overheard an interesting conversation.

“We did a very wise thing when we kept Doctor Gladden among us as pastor emeritus,” a lady whispered to a friend.

“If he did nothing but just live his life here where we can catch his spirit,” the two agreed, “the influence of his presence alone makes it worthwhile.”

Aging is inevitable and I have achieved the inevitable. So: what is my expectation as I approach ninety-one? I remember a news story describing a Senate Cloakroom meeting between German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, and American Senator Glenn Beal. It seems Adenauer revealed struggling with a siege of grippe while visiting America.  His physician reminded him “I’m not a magician. I can’t make you young again.”

“I don’t want to become young again,” quipped Adenauer, then in his 80’s; “all I want to do is go on getting older.” 

As I reach the top rung on my life’s ladder and think about my life expectancy, I find I repeatedly re-focus on life as a state of being and give less attention to the art of doing and accumulating. The Psalmist reminds me the Lord is my rock and I can, therefore, bear fruit in old age.  I can stay fresh and green because he is upright and there is no wickedness in him” (92:14-15, NIV).

If I achieve that; perhaps someone coming behind me will say, “The influence of his presence alone … makes it all worthwhile.”

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