Friday, June 19, 2009

Getting older? You bet your life

By A. E. P. (Ed) Wall

When I was a middle-aged fan of the feathered I used to think about retiring with binoculars in another decade or two, enjoying plenty of time for birdwatching.

When I finally got around to retiring the owls were hooting at me because I had the time, but I no longer had eyes that could even spot squirrels poking at my bird feeders. My ophthalmologist recommended that I buy bigger light bulbs. The owls hooted some more.

That was a long time ago. And now, 26 years after I joined, I’ve received a renewal notice from the AARP, as the American Association of Retired Persons is known. I’m offered a choice. I can renew for 1 year, or 3 years, or 5 years. As an optimist I’m opting for 5 years, which will cover me until a bit before my 90th birthday.

A friend told me that’s a ripe old age, and I thought I’d do a fact-check on that. What makes someone ripe? One reference book says something may be called ripe when its thread-like tendrils discolor and stop growing. Check!

Another way, especially if you’re wondering about a melon, is to rap on it to see whether it sounds hollow. If it sounds hollow, it probably is ripe. There’s nothing personal about this.

Growing old is an adventure, with risks, fears and satisfactions. Old age is sometimes treated as though it were a disease all by itself. Nobody has a cure for growth, or truly wants one. Old age is the consummation of human growth. Older folks have diseases. So do a tragic number of infants, children, young moms and dads. Jesus, who died young, offers the promise of eternal life, but no personal example of aging. No further example was unnecessary because, from the time of a person's birth, there's no change in Life's expectancy of a loving and generous spirit.

In the 21st century the words of Moses to Pharaoh resonate with power many generations after they were spoken. Exodus says that Moses was 80 years old when he insisted, “Let my people go.” In Psalm 71 there’s a prayer, “So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, till I proclaim thy might to all the generations to come.”

Now that’s a positive fulfillment of advanced age—to proclaim the power of God, not necessarily from a pulpit or in a letter to the editor, but by being a living proclamation of faith. Faith is explained by catechisms, but it builds from the inside out.

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