Hey, I’m only 81. But common sense and regular observation assures me my time is coming. Anyway, here’s what happened…
The old man stood at the checker’s station in my grocery store. The line behind him stretched out for a half-dozen people.
He’d bought a few things, but the process of paying for it was taking forever. He fumbled around in his pocket for his wallet, then struggled with it in search of his debit card. Only with the checker’s help was he able to insert it into the machine and complete the transaction. In the process, the old guy flirted with the lady behind him, the one just ahead of me, and made friendly comments to anyone else who might be overhearing this.
I was interested to see that both the checker and the woman customer were patient with him.
When he finished, the man seemed in no hurry to pick up his purchase and move out of the way for the next customer. He looked at the line forming behind him and muttered something about being 82 years old, as though this were an achievement for which he was being honored.
You will not believe this since I’m writing about it, but I was not impatient with him, and said nothing to anyone. I did not roll my eyes, did not even react, but sent up a quick prayer for the old gentleman.
But I was warned.
“There,” everything inside me shouted, “is how you do not want to be when you get old.”
I smile at that. “When I get old.” I’m only twelve months behind that fellow. So, am I old yet? And when will I know?
When a local woman was injured in a traffic accident, our newspaper headlined “Elderly woman victim of hit and run.” Elderly? She was only 76. I suspect the writer of that choice morsel of the editor’s art was a whipper-snapper the age of my grandchildren. He/she will learn in time. They will, that is, if they are blessed.
Not everyone is blessed to live into these higher numbers. To survive into the sunset years. The golden age. To “play the back nine,” as Professor Dan Crawford puts it. Or to use a football analogy, “to live into life’s red zone.”
Often, when I address a group of senior adults I will begin with something like: “I’ve driven over from Jackson, Mississippi this morning to congratulate you on the two greatest blessings in your life: Number one, you are saved. You are born again, your name is written in the Book of Life. You are going to Heaven. And number two….”
They will laugh.
I will add this: “Maybe you don’t think of that as a blessing. But most of us have had friends who would have given all they owned to have lived as long as we have, to have seen their children grow into adults, to have given their daughter in marriage, to have held their grandbabies in their arms. Not only have many in this room done those very things, some of us have seen our grandchildren grow into adulthood. Some have even been privileged to hold your great-grandchildren in your arms. Are you blessed or what? It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Of course, this is no excuse for expecting the world to congratulate us on having not died. It wasn’t exactly something we did, but rather something God chose to do for us.
Back to my story…
When I got to the checker with my groceries, the clerk–a grandmother herself–said, “That poor old man. He’s so lonely.” I said, “Lonely?” “Yes. He comes in here every day and buys something just to have someone to talk with.”
If I had my choice, which of course I may not, I would choose in my old age not to be lonely, not to get in people’s way, not to be senile, not to flirt with younger women, and not to expect people to be impressed that I haven’t died yet.
But, if the Lord chooses–the choice is always His, of course–not to grant those desires of my heart, I would hope He will surround me with patient people, generous friends, kind workers, and indulgent neighbors.
God bless that old man. If I see him again, I’ll try to be aware and kind to him.
But I’m going to do all I can not to be him.
I hope that’s not unkind.
I’m remembering a bumper sticker from our years in the Carolinas. “When I get old, I’m going to retire and move up north and drive slowly in the left lane.”
Maybe it’s a universal thing, I don’t know.
I pray the Lord will grant me a sense of humor in my sunset years, then give me special wisdom on when to rein it in as well as when to turn it loose and let it all hang out.
“Lord, teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” Psalm 90:12.