Not an Old Man, Not a Spring Chicken

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I am not as good looking as I once was.  I am not as smart.  I do not learn things as quickly.  I am not as healthy.  Or as strong.

I try to grow in wisdom.  Some days, I think that increased life experience even offers a fair trade for the things that are slowly slipping through my fingers.

(For the record: I’ll be 40 in December.  Certainly no old man.  But not quite a spring chicken either.)

The truth is that even this advantage may well fade.  There will be a time, perhaps, that the things that age takes will increase at such a rate that wisdom can’t keep up.  And there will be a time, perhaps, that the wisdom I have gathered will begin to shrink.

I have watched a few loved ones grow old and die.  And sometimes, it has been awful.

There is this romantic that even as we begin to forget specifics, we hold on to some deeper knowledge.  There is this idea that senility turns into these absent-minded professors, filled with knowledge, not so good on trivia.  We have this idea that maybe we can hoild onto our personality and maturity as the specifics fade…

I wish that this notion matched up with the reality I’ve experienced.

But to be really truthful, that’s not how it’s gone for me.  Early on, sure.   The specifics are the first to go.

But then… I have watched beloved grandparents stripped of maturity.  And dignity.  I have watched them transformed into these infantile states, rage-filled, pain-wracked, and so very confused.

There is no making this o.k.  But I’m coming to find some solace in it all.

I am finding solace in letting some things go.  Not stuff about them.  Stuff about me.

I make this idol of intelligence.  I have these delusions of independence.  A couple blog posts back, a commentor shared the idea that their child enjoys singing “All you need is love.”

And it occured to me, as I reflected on this… If all we need is love, then the other stuff, maybe it gets in the way.

For a while, we get to have all these other… toys.  We get good looks.  Intelligence.  Wisdom.  Health.

And more or less in the order we accumulate them, all these extras are stripped away.

A thing I have learned as a special education teacher to emotionally disturbed adolescents is that sometimes, even love has to be measured in relative terms.  The other day, a colleague went out of his way for a profoundly distrubed student.  This student is always negative.  Always nasty.  And he’s got lots of good reasons to be.

My co-worker said to this child, “After I did all this stuff for you, you’re still going to swear at me.  After I did this for you, can’t you find something nice to say?”

And the kid considered this.  And he smirked.  And he said something with more subtle humor than any of us would have ever expected out of him.  He said, “Well, you’re not as annoying as most of these other people.”

Relative to his normal endless string of curses, these few words are practically a Shakespearean ode of eternal love.  Compared to the things he normally said to people, this is a victory.

And compared to God’s endless, perfect love, everything we’re ever going to be able to pull off, it’s only worth celebrating in relative terms.  All of us are like that kid.  If we bring a smile to God’s face, it’ll be the wry smile that my coworkers and I shared, comparing a fairly harmless sentence to the normal toxicity of his sayings.

And so at the end of our lives, when so much has been taken from us… perhaps we are reduced to snarling, angry things with such rage and pain.  Perhaps, when compared even with our own selves early in life, we are much… less…. than once were.

But when taken in context…. when the full reality of what we are faced with is really grappled with, maybe there is something beautiful about the fact that we are only yelling in anger, not biting at someones fingers.  And if we are biting at someone’s fingers, perhaps it is only because we have something of our capacity to love built up over the years that we are not assaulting someone with a chair.

It’s a cold comfort.  And I hope that I’ve been clear, and not cruel here.  I am still figuring it all out myself…


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

One thought on “Not an Old Man, Not a Spring Chicken”

  1. Interesting thoughts here Jeff. I wonder some times about things along these lines. I am closer to the old man than you are and I will say as time passes so does your perspective. That said, as your relationship with God deepens the veil begins to lift and He lets us see more and more from his vantage point. I think the anger or lack thereof, is more in proportion to that relationship than anything else. Thankfully God loves the unlovable.


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