Welcome to the website of a retired United Methodist pastor! This corner of the Internet continues nearly fifty years of a weekly column in a church newsletter, on topics ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. The opinions expressed are the author's and represent no institution, although it is hoped that within these pages you will find a reflection of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who, in his own borrowed words, insists that we love God with, along with all the rest of what we are, our minds. "Critical" as used in the title does not mean being nasty or grumpy; it means using intellectual faculties in the service of God. Your reactions, rebuttals, comments, and questions can be addressed to: BobHow9846@comcast.net.
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March 27, 2015 - Essays: Al and Linda
April 25, 2015 - Essays: The Concentrated Mind
May 9, 2015 - Essays: Growing Old and Over the Years
Getting On and Over the Years
There's something your doctor can't tell you. When you
get up in years. Can't, not won't, because maybe [s]he would if gifted
with what, we called in my trade in bygone years, "a consecrated imagination."
My internist might qualify according to that measure, but I haven't pushed her that
far. My former cardiologist, however, flunked out. Sometime during
our second and final tête-à-tête he asked me if I felt as good as I thought I
should. When I responded with "How should I feel?" he beat a hasty retreat
without a word.
That's what your doctor can't tell you, my dear senior
citizen: how it feels to be eighty, and, more to the point, how you should
expect to feel. And the reason the medical profession is largely deficient on
this matter is that they aren't old enough, haven't lived long enough to
experience the erosions of accumulated age.
I confess to a similar deficiency during my fifty years as a
pastor. Among the duties I assigned myself was taking communion into the
homes of shut-ins, not a few of whom were in various degrees of dementia.
Three times a year I would drive east and west, as far as fifty miles to
Westhampton and dear Viola, to offer the bread and cup to congregants immured in
skilled nursing facilities. At the end of such days I would return home
and sink into a recliner from exhaustion, more the spiritual kind than the
physical. Not from want of trying, I usually failed to enter into the mind and heart of the
soul sitting beside me on her bed. Yes, I sensed the monumental effort
made on my behalf to be alert. I heard the voiced frustration with
containment within four walls. I guided the cup to the lips of those whose
hands trembled uncontrollably. Mostly I carefully avoided the obvious
question about what comes next, because it would be as depressing for me as for
the congregant. Sympathy is blessed, but it only goes so far. After
those excursions with my communion kit it seemed to me I had been visiting
another species; and I was humbled and frustrated by my failure... to be
Simply put, aging is a process during which we must learn to
live with diminished expectations for ourselves. As I repeat to any younger
person who will listen, "Eighty is the pits." My toolbox is filled with
shiny tools. The winterized mower stays winterized. The extension
ladder hasn't touched my foot in three years. Blinking fluorescent bulbs in the
basement blink on. Broken bricks in the patio stay broken. And...
well, you get the picture... and what it is the doc cannot tell you, about growing
old as the season of diminished expectations.
When I tried this rueful theme on my gym buddies, they
scoffed and said in so many words, get over it, Howard, nothing new here, the
aging process starts at twenty. Like a latter day Greek chorus, albeit one
in bathing suits and less, they chanted (or so I thought), "Qwitchyerbitching."
And consider the upside of growing old. Like the
solicitousness which greets you at every hand. Especially those close at hand.
My dear partner for nearly sixty years seems obsessed with making life easier
for me, so much so that on occasion I have asked somewhat guiltily, "Do I seem
that frail?.. cranky?... tired?" Ditto for daughters.
Once upon a long time ago, when the grandsons living with us
were rambunctious kindergarteners, I would occasionally pick them up and carry
them up the stairs to bed. I would explain that what I was doing for them
they would someday be expected to do for me. That day is nearer now than
ever. And I am flattered to think the boys will accept the chore for the old man
with smiles and the comment, "Like you said, Pa."
Better yet, when you're old enough you accept the
solicitousness, if not as a right, as an honor bestowed. Last Sunday I
drove on to the church property and would have turned into the parking lot
nearest the church entrance, the one reserved for "First Time Visitors."
An attendant waved me away. I opened the car window and said, "I'm
eighty-three." He was ready to step aside but some other eighty-three year
old had beaten me to the empty space; and there was no room in the inn for
Bobby. But a point had been scored and acknowledged!
So if I cavil, I also celebrate: the 10% discount at Dunkin
Donuts; the door held open a little longer; the patience of those to whom I
request, "Say that again"; any ticket taker who unnecessarily asks me if I am
over 65; any venue, ballpark, concert, or worship where I don't have to walk
forever (or so it seems) to get there; the only two places where my previous
life is acknowledged with the honorifics "Rev" or "Pastor," the service station
and the locker room (with its truth- telling Greek chorus); prosthetic knees
that never hurt like the rest of me; a home warmed or cooled as the meteorology
requires and no matter what it delivers to Fox Chase Lane; a pet dog that
shadows me day and night and pees on command; and another Greek chorus of
website readers, like you, generous in approvals and honest (mostly) in
assessments of my offerings, considering the age from which they originate.
LG. Genesis insists. I concur.