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As young as you feel (Not as old as you look)

The signs of getting old are pretty hard to ignore.  Or so it seems to be.  And they extend far beyond graying hair and wrinkled faces, a slower shuffle across the floor and constantly having to choose between “Huh?” once more time or smiling politely having absolutely no idea what was being said or what I might have agreed to.

There are some signs of aging I just didn’t expect.  I rub against something and suddenly there is a cut that is bleeding—adding a whole new meaning to “thin skinned.”  My lab reports show I need a little more Vitamins D and B12 and I assume it is because I am not eating right or not getting enough sun. Except when I look it up on the internet both deficiencies are common in “the aging population.”  Forgetfulness is almost a cliché  and I can’t quite convince myself that it is because I have an overcrowded brain rather than because my aged synapses aren’t synapsing like they once did.

Sadly enough I am not the only one who notices that the years are catching up to me.  I talked on the phone to a college friend who works for a major, national recruiting firm for educational and non- profit organizations. We were talking about what we were doing and when we would stop doing what we were doing.  I had a sudden inspiration and asked her Wouldn’t it be fun, once we retire, to start a whole new career?  I figured, after all, she would have the pulse on some great possibilities.  But there was a moment of silence, then what sounded like a snort, and then the kind of uncontrollable giggling I hadn’t heard out of her since we were, well, in college. ‘”Beth,” she said.  “I tell search committees all the time that age doesn’t matter.  But they just look at me like I have lost my mind. Guess what. Age matters.” 

I am sure there is some wisdom in that, the assumption being that once we reach our “golden years” (Who decided they were ‘golden?’) we had pretty much spent ourselves.  Even reminding the committees that both presidential candidates were eligible for Medicare didn’t help, she explained.

But the worst, I think, is when people are impressed with  what we can still manage, as old as we appear to be. I had just finished an 8 mile hike which ended at the parking lot for the Claremont Wilderness Trail.  I was feeling pretty darned good, until, that is, a nice woman stopped to talk to me.  I would guess she was in her early 40s.  She was about to do the 5 mile loop, or so she told her friend.  But she looked at me with such kind eyes and such a sweet voice (the kind reserved for toddlers and great grandmothers) and asked me encouragingly,  “Did you go all the way to the top??” I just nodded.  Anything I might have said would have been inappropriate for my age and/or my profession.

So when I turned on "Jeopardy" the other night and saw the categories I was heartened.  “Perks of Aging” was one of them.  I thought about what might be included—Medicare, AARP, senior citizen discounts at the theater, senior centers where there are hot meals and cool people to meet.  

Apparently my definition of aging is strikingly different than the producers of "Jeopardy" think.  All of the answers (which require the right question) were things like:  not having to take the LSAT, SAT or this test whose initials are GRE, or not having to go to the kind of events that happen in places like Coachella.. and on it went.  Obviously for them getting old starts happening as one screeches towards 30 instead of 60 or 70.

So I hadn’t been feeling quite so good about my age, even though I haven't slowed down and I have even found new things to do. I can lift  my paddleboard on the top of  my car and go to the lake and not fall off my paddle board.  I can hike for 8 miles and love the silence and solitude.  I don't worry so much about what other people think as long as I keep thinking about other people.  

But the signs of aging had been pretty hard to ignore.   

Until that day at Cedar Lake camp when I was walking with my fourth grade friend Madyson.   I teach the 2-6th graders for an hour each day and on this day we were following the life of Jesus.  We had begun in the meeting room remembering the story of Jesus' birth.  We had stopped at the lake to imagine John the Baptist baptizing Jesus (I know Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan but the camp is Cedar Lake not Cedar River.  You have to be flexible to teach...)   We walked towards the boats where we were going to find some disciples. As we walked I asked the kids what Jesus would need to do to make sure everybody heard the message he was bringing about God and the kingdom of God and the love of God.

They giggled and more than one said ‘Twitter.”  We all laughed.  I then started to tell Mady that I was so old that I remembered telephones that stayed in once place and had a dial.  I got out the words, “I am so old,” when she stopped me.  Literally stopped me.  

“You aren’t old,” she said.  “You’re Beth.” 

Those words have changed me.  Those words have warmed me and empowered me and comforted me and compelled me to keep being…Beth. Those words have invited me to discover who Beth is today and who Beth will be in the days to come.  Those words echo the words of the one we were following that day, the One we must follow every day.  

For it was Jesus himself who said:  ”You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

And guess what—our lights aren’t out yet. 


Thanks be to God (and to Madyson!)