Monday, October 18, 2010

Looking Back on 75 Years

Yesterday I turned 75. S-e-v-e-n-t-y…f-i-v-e…y-e-a-r-s… o-l-d. How in the world did I get here? Where did it all go? The years…the churches…the kids…my parents…friends either dead or just slipped away some in death and some in attrition…some, I just don’t know.

Strange place to be. The opportunities to do begin to dwindle. The phone doesn’t ring quite as often. Nobody seems to need you or ask your advice. That’s pretty hard for us pastor-types who may be the neediest of them all.

My body changing. I have a finger that is swollen and crippled with arthritis. One finger. I have a big toe that reminds me from time to time it is there because it hurts when I walk or try to run. Strange knots appear on my body. My hair disappeared. And the dermatologist lectures: “You have had all the sun you can ever have…” as she burns off these pre-cancerous places here and there…and there and here.

In some ways I have gotten more emotional. I find myself on the verge of tears when I think of my parents long dead. I wish I had said thanks more. I wish I had asked them about their growing up, about the early hard days of marriage. Of the interminable years they both spent locked in a cotton mill from seven until three and early on, seven until seven. During the war—seven days a week. I now want to know how they got up every working morning year after year and went to work. No vacations to dream of. No looking forward to excitement in the days ahead. Just work and cooking and eating and being. They had no car. They lived in a rented mill house. And yet—they never muttered or complained. They just did what they had to do.

I get emotional when I think about my children grown and gone. Wishing, wishing I could, like Joshua long ago, have stopped the sun just long enough to enjoy those moments when they were little and going through growing stage to growing stage. Oh, I have my memories. Trips to the Beach. Taking my daughter to New York when she was 15. Riding across Kentucky to that little tiny college in the mountains with only my son in the car…and our talk and our fun. Of course I remember the houses we lived in…and I can name every room of every house and what happened there. I remember that summer in England when I exchanged churches with an English Pastor and the fun we had and the places we visited and the terror of trying to drive on the wrong side of the road. And now my two children are grown and productive I am very proud of both of them. Not to speak of my two granddaughters who are growing up much too fast.

I am moved when I remember some of the people we met along the way. People who made the trip worthwhile by their fun and kindness and love and patience. In every church there was somebody that I still remember as if it was yesterday. My, my how blessed I have been by those colleagues I worked with…and put up with me and made it happen over and over.

Married fifty years. Why, that is almost as strange as thinking about being seventy-five. She is still as gorgeous as the day I first met her in Louisville. But that inner beauty, that stubborn goodness that goes all the way down and makes her who she is. God knows, she has put up with a lot from me. My ups and downs…crazy churches…living on a shoestring…moving again and again and making each place feel like home. If you were to cut me open and look at my heart her name would be written there in large letters.

I remember the books that have blessed me. The places that changed me. Princeton in the summers. New York City. England…and Oxford in particular. Italy…Spain…not to speak of friends we met and loved and laughed with along the way.

I am indebted to that cotton-mill church with the white columns and the redbrick school across the street. But the church took me in, made me feel a part of something special. I feel it to this day when I hear the old hymns and see beautiful stained glass and read from the old, old book that never grows old.

Maybe I’m just groveling in sentimentality…seventy-five year olds do sometimes. But I hope it is more than that. I hope it is a remembering…like William Stafford said in a poem: “By remembering hard I could startle (which means to stumble or to rush) for home and be myself again.” I am still, after all these years trying to find out who I really am. Maybe all of life is just struggling with that question.
Judy Collins still sings, once in a while, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes.” And it moves me still after all these years. Judy, I do not know where the time went or how I got here. But if I am not grateful for the ride and those along the way that made it happen I should hang my head in shame.

There won’t be as much ahead as there was behind and sometimes that infuriates me. And yet—when I remember, really remember I am glad. For dogs and cats—Lucy and Pooch and Jennifer and Beethoven. For places. For parents and wife and children and grandchildren. For friends. For digging in the yard and just marveling at black-eyed susans and daisies dahlias and phlox and hostas and ferns and hydrangeas not to speak of the trees that change colors. For trips and jogging and books and movies and macaroni cheese and real friend chicken and grits and eggs and country ham on Christmas morning with red-eye gravy and lasagna and a good wine or two. For the pipe I used to smoke and for the occasional cigar I still have…these and much more. Once, long ago, Ray Bradbury sent me some of his Christmas poems. I still remember one line that is probably a good way to end this 75-year-old-rambling. “Joy is the grace we say to God for gifts given.” Yes…yes…yes.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post. You are growing older with grace and dignity and most important--fun. You are an inspiration to me and I will think of you when I arrive to where you are now. Continue to enjoy life! As one of my favorite actresses, Laura Linney recently said, "growing old is a privilege."