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Life is series of adjustments


Life is a learning experience, from first scream to final sigh.

This thought marched front and center to my consciousness, like an on-deck batter walking to the plate, as I listened to Ron Darling explain the intricacies of the age-old duel between the pitcher and the batsman.  Move and countermove proceed endlessly, inning after inning, game after game, season after season. To live, survive, and succeed requires one adjustment after another.  

When I was eight, I was consumed with envy at next-door cousins who rode their bikes, with teenaged bravado, sometimes without holding the handlebars.  I kept falling this way or that on my Iver Johnson thin tire (oh, the ignominy in a balloon-tired age!).  Until my Dad took Bobby and bike in hand and held me upright down the long dirt driveway, letting go, unbeknownst to me, at sufficient speed to begin my career, in an auto-shrunken World War II time period, riding miles and miles away and back to 17 Hillside Avenue.

Young ones have older ones to  goad, guide, and assist in obtaining life's important achievements.

As a teenager I was terribly afraid of and attracted to girls.  Big deal, right? Aren't we all?  But I was an only child with no sister to instruct me in dealing with feminine wiles. Fortunately I had buddies who were much more experienced in, if no more eager to act on, romantic impulses.  One evening at the tender age of fifteen, a quarter of an hour before our basketball team, the Atomic Five, was to play in the high school gym, Bucky arranged for the history teacher's daughter to instruct me in the arts of osculation. I played the game that night with a face almost as red as the lipstick smeared on my cheek, and suffered rebuke from a girl in my class who figured out why and declared she didn't think Bobby was that kind of boy.

I had my trail-blazers for the jungle of adolescence, usually someone just a trifle older, plus the limit-markers of parents, teachers, and pastors.

Learning, learning, it never ends.

On February 4, 1956 I preached the first of a thousand sermons to a congregation in Brooklyn mostly composed of three generations of Methodists from Norway.  In my home state they called me "Reverend." In Sunset Park within view of the Statue of Liberty they called me "Pastor."  And in the ensuing seventeen and a half years those cousins of Prince Valiant and Edvard Grieg taught me, but never self-consciously, everything I needed to know about being a pastor.  Like, among many, many things, cooling it on the basketball court when elbows are flying, mine included, and being tempted to forget how my halo looks to the fans in the stands. Or, more to the more important point, how to deal with a straitlaced congregant angry when she stumbles into a meeting of the youth fellowship in the church social hall and a dance is in progress.

A pastor has a hundred advisors ready to supply lessons to make life for all more acceptable, even joyful. (And, sometimes, more miserable!)

But (and here's where this essay was going from the beginning) to whom can an octogenarian go for instruction in the inevitable adjustments aging requires?  That's the question that kept nudging me Saturday night at a dinner with contemporaries in a gym where I once let my elbows fly as I sped to the basket for a layup. Now the only speeding I do is to the men's room. On my left was a former guard on the college football team, dependent on a cane, explaining the absence of a wife in the late stages of Parkinson's. To my right was another lawyer from Manhattan equipped with a walker, which did not, I am happy to report, diminish his capacity for singing the alma mater or shooting zingers about those left standing in the race for the presidential election. 

For obvious reason, the company I keep lately is filled with the halt and the lame and those necklaced with breathing tubes... well, you get the picture: a constituency comprised of those Wesley had in mind when he wrote "O, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing" (look it up).  In my strength, when the dog couldn't endure my lap for more than a minute for the blazing of my BMR, I hardly noticed this constituency.  God forgive me.  Now I am a member of it. Without a sherpa to guide me up the mountain of obstacles that beset those of a good age.  Doctors don't help. But I won't blame them.  They are, for the most part, too young, haven't been there, didn't do that.  They can prescribe for acne, but what do they know about  pseudo gout? They produce reams of important and useful information about a childhood scourge, Asperger's Syndrome; but just a paragraph or two about Reynaud's Syndrome, that keeps me and millions of others of similar age in fur-lined gloves and woolen socks throughout the bedtime hours. They can persuade me to engage in disciplines of longevity; but they'll have a devil of a time teaching me a cheerful dependency. Geriatrics, I am told by a specialist in that field, is a profession desperately in need of candidates.  Amen to that. 

So, Lord, please send me a latter day Bucky and history teacher's daughter, to school me in the arts of ossification.  Because I need not only to grow in grace but learn how to grow old gracefully. 

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