The Joy of Aging


(This article, written in a lighter vein, wall make us reflect about that unavoidable process that is aging)

Don Bastion / January 4, 2006

I first became aware of the relentless process of aging in an unexpected way. I was a college pastor, 37 years old, and a student from the campus across the street had come for an appointment. She talked out her problem, and we prayed. As she got up to leave, she said with a warm smile, "Thanks very much for seeing me; I thought it would be good for me to talk to someone middle-aged."

Me, middle-aged? It was a brand-new and unexpected thought. I pondered it for some time after she left. I'm not middle-aged, I thought. I am young, not that much different from the hundreds of students I preach to every Sunday.

But the truth slowly sank in, and, since then, people here and there have managed to remind me of my aging process. For example, I was holding a church conference in Western Canada when I was in my early 60s. As I crossed the conference grounds from the lodge to the meeting place, singing to myself, I saw my friend Maurice coming toward me. He stopped, put his hand on my forearm, and said in a solicitous voice, "At your age, you shouldn't be walking and singing at the same time."

Later that year, my wife, Kathleen, and I were driving across Michigan on Interstate 94. It was late afternoon and time to quit for the day, so I pulled into a motel. Inside, I asked the usual questions: "Do you have a non-smoking room for two? Preferably on the main floor?" The man at the desk studied his charts and then, smiling as if he was going to be helpful, said, "I can give you a handicapped room. Fully equipped." It was another jarring moment. Did I look that decrepit? I wondered.

But the coup de grace came a few months ago, administered by the boss of a roofing crew replacing shingles on a house next door. I asked him to look at my roof and give me his opinion. We walked together to my driveway, and he stood for a few moments looking up. Then he said pleasantly, "You won't be around to replace those shingles."

I'm not alone in such experiences. I was standing with the late Bishop Paul N. Ellis when a young man asked him what it was like to be old (he was then in his 60s). Ellis replied, "At least I've gotten there, while you aren't sure you will."

The young man saw the humor in the bishop's reply, but his question did not surprise either of us. Many observant seniors can talk about the subtle social changes that begin to manifest themselves as age creeps on: Sales clerks may show a lack of interest in providing service; con artists look on them as easy prey for scams; younger people may ignore their comments in a group.

Growing old is not for the humorless. I've been collecting funny stories about aging and memory loss for some time now. This is not politically incorrect, because I'm telling stories on myself. One story my wife and I both enjoy is about an elderly couple who was driving out to meet friends for a social evening. She says to him, "Honey, you try to remember where we're going, and I'll try to remember who we are."

Admittedly, there is a less pleasant side to aging. Strength begins to wane, degenerative diseases show up, floating creaks and aches become regular companions. Perhaps worst of all is the subtle anxiety, always just under the surface, about what the future will hold in this brave new world. The psalmist's prayer takes on new meaning: "Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone" (Ps. 71:9).

Slowly Down the Pilgrim Path

In my experience, that sort of response is the right one. We can allow faith to take us by one arm and hope by the other as we walk, perhaps a little less briskly than before, down this pilgrim path.