Soda Bottle Caps and Marmalade Lids
Soda Bottle Caps and Marmalade Lids
Somewhere I heard that the secret to longevity was being able to cope with loss.
Makes sense. I assumed, of course, that the losses envisioned were people, family, friends, those with whom our lives are intimately linked. As a pastor for the better part of a lifetime I have by virtue of that office often been with parishioners in their grief. And I've been there, in "the slough of despond," a time or two personally. Some of us are resilient; others never get over it. Basic temperament makes most of the difference. Faith helps, if that faith is grounded not only in hope but also in reality.
But when I first heard this wisdom about longevity and how to get it, I hadn't thought to apply it to soda bottle caps and marmalade lids. Which to octogenarian fingers and wrists are a problem. In years past I watched my father struggle to wrap his gnarled digits around jam jars to access the sweets inside. He would turn to me, as I now do to my daughter or grandsons, for help. Which they happily provide, but with a curiosity on their faces that asks, "What's so hard about this?"
At my high school class's 80th birthday party in September we were uncertain as to the location in the park where the festivities were to be held. As we crossed the bridge to Cove Island, I spied two women walking slowly up ahead and decided that the Class of 1949 could be found simply by following the canes.
Coping with the loss of dexterity must also be in the mind of the advocate of longevity. Ramona observed to me long ago that the human body is like an automobile: its parts break down and wear out, usually, if we are lucky, a little at a time. Saturday night at yet another reunion (this one for the snowbirds of the Class of 1953) a classmate entertained us with the song Julie Andrews sang for her 69th birthday. You can smile or weep at the new lyrics to "My Favorite Things" at: AARP Version of My Favorite Things. By way of enticing you to access Julie's rueful song, I offer this verse:
Maalox and nose drops and needles for knitting,
Walkers and handrails and new dental fittings,
Bundles of magazines tied up in strings,
These are a few of my favorite things.
To which the titanium in my knees clanks "Amen."
The Julie Andrews stand-in has spent his last sixty years as a CEO and a super volunteer in a dozen worthy causes. Whatever the community lucky enough to claim his mind, heart, and powers of persuasion, it was soon to claim also his leading, not because of his ambition but by their acclamation. Across the table from me at dinner he put a question to me, "Bob, you've been a minister for a long time; do you still find people seeking you out, like they did when you were in the parish?" My answer, mostly an equivocation, doesn't deserve elaboration. What fascinated me was the personal context in which it was raised. My classmate, accustomed to being the sun around which the planets orbited, discovers himself in his 81st year a lonely asteroid watching the universe pass by. I remembered my stock line when asked by my colleagues in the Valley Stream Religious Council what I would miss most in retirement. "No longer being important," I complained. Talk about being the sun to planets, a pastor and preacher basks in the approval of a congregation some of whom insist on telling him weekly how wonderful he is. And children, during the message on Sunday just for them, confuse the fellow in the black robe with the robed fellow in stained glass images. Doesn't get any more important than that!
I've preached a total of six times on a Sunday in the past ten years. No one asks. I don't volunteer. Self-inflicted unimportance? But I do have you, my electronic congregation. I may no longer be the main attraction, just a diverting sideshow. Enough to keep me from bemoaning that "I don't get no respect." Which is the residual affection accorded a shepherd of souls. And that (residual affection) is something a broker of salty legumes, who in his prime was everyone's emcee, apparently does not experience.
Ernest Hemingway famously observed (I am overly fond of quoting) that men don't die of old age; they die of boredom. Or lost importance. Thank you for keeping me alive... to struggle still with bottle caps and marmalade lids.