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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Aging Gracefully

It is my birthday today. I've received lots of greetings, mostly on Facebook. My two brothers, they never remember my birthday. So I've come to expect nothing from them. My sister mentioned it as an afterthought in an email the other day. It's the first time she's acknowledged my birthday in more than 25 years. Those are the blood relatives closest to me (other than wife and kids).

Somehow, I'm not really disappointed or annoyed. I think birthdays used to be special. That was particularly true when I was a kid. But as I got older, not so much. In fact, after 40, birthdays really began to lose their luster for me. And when I turned 50, I began to weary of all the hoopla. Today the celebration my wife and kids put on for me reminds me that I'm loved. But frankly I know it's a chore for them. I can't honestly say I end up feeling special because of it. To be honest, I'm usually kind of glad that its over.

It may have been that birthday celebrations were originally intended to celebrate the fact that someone was born. Kind of a celebration of their life. You want not to celebrate the birthday, but rather to celebrate the individual. Now that would be worth celebrating! But I think somehow it ends up being something else. Those who stand outside of the birthday looking in see one thing. The guy who's having the birthday stands on the inside looking out. And he sees something else entirely.

From the inside out, the birthday seems more to mark the passage of time. Maybe it ushers in the advent of old age, especially after 50. I don't actually feel any different than I did when I was 40, or 30 or maybe even 20. But I have to acknowledge that my eye sight is worse, my skin is more wrinkled, and there are even liver spots on my hands. Fewer of my teeth are my own. And I've got back problems that I didn't seem to have in the first 50 years of my life. Really, what's up with all this stuff?

When I turned 50, my first thought was that old age isn't nearly as intimidating as I thought it would be. It's bark is apparently much worse than its bite. At least that's my perspective so far. Two years later, I have to admit the bark is a bit more ferocious and I've felt just a bit of a bite. I wonder if the bite really does get worse with each passing year.

I was pretty offended when the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) send me a membership offer and a complimentary issue of their magazine two years ago. They keep sending them and I keep being offended. I never, ever read them. And I throw them in the trash in triumph each time they violate my mail box. I was particularly appalled when I saw Valerie Bertinelli on the cover of the AARP magazine earlier this year. Good grief, the girl is the same age as me! How could she do such a thing! For what it's worth, I can't imagine that I will ever, ever join the AARP, no matter how good of a discount they offer me. I just will never identify myself as a retired person.

And there you have it. The whole notion of being retired is just offensive to me. It's not Biblical, for one thing. There's nowhere in the Bible that anything like retirement is condoned, mentioned, commanded or even allowed. I guess it could only be forgiven. As for me, I don't ever intend to be retired. I expect I'll keep working at something as long as I am able. What I'll be able to work at may be the question. But whatever it is, I'd like to think that I'll continue to struggle against the infirmities that afflict me in old age.

I think that's what God expects us to do in our old age. Fight it. Struggle against it. Don't let it define us. Lean into its wisdom, find peace with its limitations --- but make the most of its possibilities. I expect that no matter how many birthdays I have, I'll always be asking what I can do next. And I'll always expect there to be an answer to that question.

It is a happy birthday for me, by the way. I'm quite happy and content. What I'd really like for my birthday today is just a nice nap. I probably won't get that, but that's okay. I've learned to be content with whatever God sees fit to give me. Now I don't know how much more old age God is going to give me. I could be a lot or it could be a little. But whatever it is, I hope I'll have the good sense to make the most of those years.

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