Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Those Golden Years – Where We Wear Out, Rust Out Or Just Fade Out

As I began to approach the later years of my life (I guess I am there now) I have begun to think about the past more, and it is reflected in this series of pieces with other themes on memories, thus now the Golden theme. Down through the years from our adolescence on into what becomes the age of supposed maturity, we have occasion to examine our lives. Being a pastor for nearly 30 years, and laymen steeped in the work of all facets of the church before that, I experienced many of the uplifting times in life, as well as the sadder moments.

I was never a daredevil so to speak, not really, but I was up to a dare or a challenge, if it seemed reasonable and within the norm of my latitude of acceptability. There are those things that young people get caught up in from time to time, as you hear the words; “I double dare ya!” I was not however the type to just leap in without due consideration of consequence, not just to me bodily, but for me psychologically. Ah ha, you say… he was a person of reason even back then. No… I am not saying that! I was afraid more of what disturbance it may create within family and community, with the negative effects on my desire to maintain an acceptable decorum. Ok … perhaps a bit of a thinker even back then. The ordinary pulse of growing up includes the push and shove from within the peer group, and we naturally do our best to stay on a reasonably strong footing, because if you didn’t, it could mean disaster for you socially. 

I didn’t have a lot of friends, a few perhaps, but none who would turn out to be BFFs, in my case anyway. Was I a total loner then?... no not at all. I was athletic, and it led me to several types of teams at school until I began to work, and then my time was taken up with that necessity in life. I enjoyed the evenings out in the group settings of dances and some parties. I was not “the” social wall flower, but I wasn’t a VERY popular person in school either. I had my run-ins with the bullies of the time and people who were perhaps a bit jealous, when I received an athletic award at one year’s graduation; but for the most part my life in school was quite normal I believe. I was however an “administration pet”. I got along well with the office staff and leadership of every school I have ever attended and there have been a few. Enough said on that subject.  So I made few friendships that had expiry dates! The hard part of it all was that I began to realize that these friends, though not bound to be best buddies for life, still tied me to memories that I cherished and there is for me an element of sadness that that entails. 

As the years have turned into decades, and those into generations, I have tried to cautiously rekindle some of the fringe friendships that I nurtured to some degree in my childhood and adolescence. As the social media has made contacting old friends more accessible, I did spend some time cultivating that idea with only little success. Those who I have found, and felt I still had a close enough kinship with, have remained my friends on the media for some time now. It is good to watch their families grow, as they began to have grandchildren of their own, and in some cases, we still carry on weekly interactions of jests or blessings for one another. As life sometimes announces, the time soon arrived, when the joy of remembering had its difficult moments. I can’t say exactly when I lost my first friend to death. It was some time ago and his death was a shock, it was sudden, and it was a heart attack. I have had heart problems of my own down through the years, and it was my first reminder that life is precious, and perhaps I needed to take better care of myself. 

Where does time go we might ask, as suddenly we realize that we are no longer the young, energetic persons we used to be? I had never really looked deeply into a mirror before, and gazed into a strangers face, until the time of my father’s death. Having parents alive and situationally present in our lives, seems to define us as still having a modicum of youth still remaining, I believe. Well, I paused that morning, in front of his bathroom mirror as I began to shave, and gazed almost in disbelief, to see a man present and looking back at me; he was a much older version of who I used to be. I have to admit, it was troubling to say the least. He was wrinkling, there was a heaviness above and below his eyelids and those once flat and sleek eyebrows had suddenly begun to look bushy… just like my Dad’s. That reflection had jowls and a pronounced double chin, and so much more that just seemed to startle me immediately.

My Mom once said that I was too much like my father. "Oh?"... was the rhetorical question I lobbed back in return. Because we did not always see eye to eye, my Mom and I had to banter from time to time just to keep the air clear. By this time in life I had a fair sense of my Dad’s past and most of the work he had done throughout his working years. He worked hard; there was no doubt about it. Physical labour was not above him, and he didn’t easily back away from the difficult challenges placed upon him, in the standard workplaces of his lifetime. On one day in those early years, I had just come off of a stint of work with a large local paving contractor, when the secondary roads within the county were being repaved. That day in particular I had arrived home and was planning to go out for the evening, to meet my girlfriend at the time. Mom could see in my eyes that I was exhausted and a mere fast meal and shower was not going to meet the needs for my recovery that evening. I had literally hand swept, with an industrial broom, 10 miles of highway, (yes miles!) cleaning the gravel left behind from the process of laying down shouldering, next to the new pavement. I went up 5 miles, doing one lane, and then back down the other five miles, sweeping the other lane. Why? For some reason the owners felt I could be trusted to do the job properly, and so I was chosen to be kept on that “last” day, enabling me to earn more wages,  before they began to shut down for the winter months, which they did while I swept. They could have easily taken the tractor, with the forward sweeper, and completed the job in a couple of hours or so. I had started work as per usual, at 6:30 that morning, and arrived home at 6:00 that evening, and I was only working on the road less than 1 mile from home. Exhaustion or not... I had a date to keep!

Life has brought illness, in its various forms, in my stretch of lifetime thus far. I have always seemed to bounce back and be well enough to carry on with some success. But as we know each illness takes its toll on many facets of life and our body parts either wear out or give out at some juncture, after the wear and tear of continued illness. Some of us know the hazards of years of prescription medications. While they do add comfort, relief and even acceptable levels of important readings for our medical needs, they sometimes create their own sets of problems for other parts of our physiology, relying on not being attacked just to save another organ, gland or muscle. As an example, many meds to control colesterol will attack our livers. LOL It sometimes reminds me of the proverb about robbing Peter to pay Paul. Not everything becomes a quick fix in the medical world.

So it is that we begin to realize that aging has begun. Most of us, or at least some of us, try our level best to grow old gracefully. I am not one to join a gym and begin a regime that will transform me into a remake of a 50 year old. All power to those who can do it, or have a driven passion to undertake the pain and discipline to take it on… but it is not for me. I already have too many problems that will not allow me to exact that kind of exercise on my already broken body. Some years back I hurt both knees in the Himalayas, in the northern regions of India. It was my first trip there, and in the following years I was no longer able to undertake the treks down the mountain paths to visit local pastors and their families. Today I am having trouble negotiating the stairs in our home and will soon have to consider sleeping on the main floor level. My aim is to be able to walk more and further to keep my cardiovascular needs met.

How we choose to live, what we are willing to undertake in the name of work, and with only reasonable risk in doing so, along with a good diet, (event that is under discussion and argument these last few decades) can have much to do with the outcome we find for our later years.  For instance, my Dad ate bacon and eggs (2 at least), along with baked beans, brown bread, coffee or tea a great deal of his life. He was for the most part quite healthy and was told that he may even live to see 100. Unfortunately a stroke shortened his life, complicate by pneumonia at age 96. But his body reflected the punishment of those years of physical labour. 

In life you may choose for yourself to be a person who lives a simple, yet athletic, lifestyle. And there is much to be said for that. On the other hand there are many who work in more sedentary situations, such as you would see in offices, vendors in cubicles in the mall, where life become a matter of keeping up with what is before them on a desk, on the computer screen, or in the confines of the home. I once heard a woman say that a day’s work at home was worth as much in exercise as any formal regime. Well… that may be so for some, but I tend to feel that most of those mothers out there would be well served with some form of cardiovascular exercise for both their heart and their souls, to augment their needs when possible.

I’d been asked if, when I retired, I knew what I was going to do with my life. I was retiring early, opting out of the stresses I found myself in, and needed to recover myself and my soul, so that I might have fullness of life, not just life in eternity. By that I DON’T mean that I dreamed of perfect health, but a more fulfilling life, spending more time with the love of my life, being my sweetheart of 45 or more years, and more time with family, doing some of the things that our dreams had envisioned for our later years. We are fortunate to live close enough to our children and grandchildren that we can be of some assistance, but not fulltime babysitters or mere maintenance workers. We have the options to jump in or reservedly refuse the most difficult of situations, if it is not a matter of life or death (and we all know about many of those circumstances) and most are not! My Mom once reminded me that there has to be a time to cut the umbilical cord and like the eagle, give the chicks a shove out of the nest to test their own wings. Yes… in some eyes it is either fly or die folks… I err most times on a more cautious reserve and take a long look at each situation as it arises, before I jump to a solid conclusion. I have much to be thankful for from my mother’s advice, and in doing just that, I learned to take hold of problems with eyes wide open, finding acceptable solutions, and meeting the challenges that come every day for us, as families now on our own.

So, how does one manage their life, so that the outcome matches their dreams? Well, it may be a real eye opener for some to suddenly realize that the best of well laid plans, do not always work out in the way intended. There is an old saying about the word assume… “It makes an ass out of you and me!” Now before you go all viral and send me to the back burner for using such language, it was for illustrations sake only. It is NOT part of my everyday language, believe me. In terms of plans, it is good to make them, and if you can, they should be well thought out and reachable, along with being simpatico with those you love. It is always dangerous to assume that just because you have well thought out plans, have done the ground work in financial and physical planning, that all is going to be well with the outcome. 

My answer to the question of what I was going to do was this; “I will find more than enough to do, for my plan is to wear out and not rust out!” Each of us will have those options available to us.  No matter the social or economic strata which we fit into, there are things to be done, things to accomplish for humanity, for community, and most importantly for God. The simplest of undertakings may seem too miniscule to be of any meaning to others, but God’s hand is working through you, as you work for Him. That doesn’t mean that you must immediately run out and join a foodbank, start raising money for a mission trip to Africa, India or the street missions of a North American city. It may be that you will answer the call to wash dishes one day at a community breakfast, note the snow-blocked front steps of an elderly person’s home and decide to shovel it off for them;  it is often the small things, within our body’s means that can mean the most, especially if done in secret, so that the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing (common saying meaning anonymously).

Well, the mirror did not lie! It has now been nearly a decade since that first shock, and as I look from time to time at that old man staring back at me in the mirror these days, I just grin. The “Golden Years”! What are they besides the time spent in the deepest joy with family, friends, (both old and new) and in company with a host of believers who raise their voices in praise to the God who created and now sustains. He brings comfort to those of us who mourn their losses, and grants peace in the midst of those mighty storms that oft rock our foundations. I don’t really mind the so called “Golden Years” at all.

Are you nearing the Golden Years, or walking through them, while wondering what is in store for you in the days ahead? It is the truest and most significant walk near the edge that we shall ever take. In the questioning of certain facets of the past, it is there that we face our present reality; what about time spent, the validity of our choices, the value of our personhood to others and finally perhaps, “AM I AT PEACE WITH GOD”? It may be the selection of our individual choices in life that will make the final decision, regarding those enduring questions, found on the heart of those approaching the Golden Years. Do you want to choose now and hope for the best:  will you wear out, rust out or just fade out? I suspect that, when all is said and done, many of us will just fade out after all. In closing I will leave you with the wisdom of my Dad’s epiphany, after wrestling with failing strength, and the limitations placed upon him, as his last stroke left him very weak. “I started life in a crib (actually it was the drawer of a dresser) and now I am ending life in a bed with rails… I am again in a crib!” Then, he cried; we cried together, as I held his hand that night! But God was walking with him through it all, and some months later, as I was holding his hand again, and gently rubbed his forehead, God took His precious child home to be with Him. Dad “may” have faded away in some respects, but he has left an aura of greatness, that many alive knew and loved about that man! In reflection today though, I truly believe that my Dad really did just wear out! He never sat still until his failing health no longer allowed him to be an exceptionally active part of his home, church and community. Lord, if it is included in your will, my choice would be to wear out, as neither rusting out nor fading out seem to me to be a preferred set of options in my mind.

2 comments :

  1. I love your writing, its so interesting to read of your thoughts about life ...I myself just keep trucking and do whatever my heart tells me...we are here for one day at a time now and I live that day to its fullest doing what makes me happy xxxooo

    ReplyDelete