As I write this, I’m trying not to feel old despite the undeniable fact that I am getting “older.” I have a birthday coming up later this month. Not all birthdays are particularly noteworthy. But those ending in the numbers 5 or 0 tend to be big deals. I’m about to have one of those – a “big deal birthday."
I know the clichés and agree with them. One that jumps to mind is: “Growing older beats the alternative.” Agreed! From that standpoint, my philosophy about birthdays is simply, “Keep `em coming!” But, that does not change the fact that part of me resists aging. I just don’t know how the years have passed so quickly, nor why they tend to accelerate. I have not yet grown comfortable with clerks at movie theaters taking one look at me and then, without asking, giving me a discount. I have not yet grown comfortable with the physician’s phrase, “Well, as you age ….” I have not yet grown comfortable with random aches and pains and how I have become such a close friend with Ibuprofen. I have not yet grown comfortable with hearing young people on television refer to “the olden days” and then realizing they are talking about the years when I was in high school. I have not yet grown comfortable with the word “old,” at least not when it applies to me. “Mature” I can handle. “Experienced” is good. Even “seasoned” has a nice ring to it. But getting “older” is something that happens to other people. Inwardly, I’m still the guy who can run up steps without getting winded, can hit three-pointers, can dance until the band leaves, and imagines what he wants to do when he grows up. But then I look in the mirror and wonder, “Who is that stranger looking back at me?”
Don and Clara Ellis, two dear friends of many years, e-mailed me a list of adages recently. Each statement was placed beneath an arresting photo. One was a picture of a very pretty woman, perhaps early-to-mid seventies, doing Yoga and smiling peacefully. The caption read: “Do Not Regret Growing Older. It Is A Privilege Denied To Many.” It’s all about the timing, you know? That photo and its advice came to me at exactly the right moment – a moment when I was lamenting the passing of the years, inwardly regretting growing older. In truth, I should be celebrating. I have been given the gift of life. Increasingly I am being given the gift of longevity. I have the blessing of friendships accumulated over scores of years, of memories of places and people that have made and continue to make my life rich and joyful, of experience (which is life’s most effective teacher), and of the validation of Faith (I have seen and felt God’s presence so many times that I no longer have to merely hope it is a reality – after this long, I know it is). And, thank God, I can still dash up steps fairly quickly, can still hit a three-pointer, and have a large circle of folks who have known me a long time and love me anyhow. And, when Page asked how I wanted to celebrate my birthday, I told her I want to go dancing. And not slow ballroom stuff, either. I want to go to a club where a talented R&B band plays music by the Drifters, the Isley Brothers, Martha and the Vandelas, and the Temptations, and I want to dance like no one is watching!
Another of the adages included in the e-mail from Don and Clara said: “Live Your Life, And Forget Your Age.” Not bad advice. Not bad at all. Life is too great a gift to settle for anything less. So, despite the fact that my upcoming birthday has a 5 on the end, I’m going to view it as the beginning of a new chapter of faith, joy, service, and adventure. And I’m going to get started with a big piece of cake and a band that’s singing “Dancing In The Streets.” Here’s to aging!