My title is taken from Walter Wangerin’s epilogue (“Walt at Seventy-three”) in his little book called “Wounds are where light enters” (Zondervan, 2017). (By the way, it is a delightful book of short stories.)
Often when I meet someone for the first time they will ask: “And what do you do,” despite knowing that I am retired and rather old. “Oh, I do some writing; a bit of consulting, I paint a bit…,” and I let it go at that. I can see the “deer in the headlights” spacey look on their face, so I don’t tell them that I spend a lot of time thinking.
That is because thinking is a lost and somewhat dangerous art, often confused with being lazy or mentally muddled. Yes, I sit a lot and I think about life and the lessons I hope I have learned in and from it. I think about my family, my friends, the events we took part in: places in PNG, Australia, New Zealand, the US and elsewhere, and now how fortunate we are to live in such a lovely home and town; and sometimes I think about death and dying—my own, my spouses and sometimes other people’s.
Thinking is dangerous because it inevitably leads me to prayer. And prayer is dangerous because it takes me to people who may need my help and all I can offer them is my invocations. Well, not quite. Someone or some group may need some money and my convictions tell me that I could give them some. That can be dangerous—we could run out of money before we die. Think about that: “running out of money.” Is it like running out of gas for your car, postage stamps, or milk? Perhaps, except that you can’t buy more money.
I try not to think morbidly about such things but it is difficult, if not impossible, to think cheerfully about death—it doesn’t matter if it is my own or someone else’s.
I attend a men’s Bible Study with over a dozen or so other men. Most of us are old and retired, although the pastor—who lead’s the study—is youngish and three or four other men haven’t made it far into their 70’s. In the past three weeks two of our men have died, so it is natural to consider one’s own mortality.
Today my wife said “Wouldn’t it be terrible to live to be 100?” I wasn’t sure where she was going with that remark, but I tried to act interested. “What would be so terrible about that?” “Well,” she continued, “I would be deaf, have poor eyesight and be feeble.” Now I was perplexed—I didn’t want to agree, but I could see her point: both of us have hearing aids, multi-dimensional glasses, arise slowly from sitting positions and drive carefully to the store. Even at the YMCA we are cautious about getting on the treadmill or going up and down stairs. We are not in the best of shape, despite the encouraging claims from our younger grandchildren that “You are not old,” even as they help us up the steps or into the car.
So at 85, I like to think about life in terms of where I have been. I know where I am going—to heaven—(by no virtue of my own) and whatever it will be like, I expect a wonderful surprise. But when I think back, there are so many events that it is impossible to remember one without others being dredged from the mud of my memory.
An example: thinking of a hard hike I once did in the Southern Highlands reminded me why my knees don’t like to cooperate with my legs, although years of indiscriminate jogging on the roads of PNG, Australia and the US have undoubtedly contributed to the lasting soreness I seem to have. I probably should have worn better shoes or run on grass instead of rocks and cement. But then my wife’s philosophical interpretation of life comes to mind: “What is, is.”
So give me some slack and let me think. Sometimes I do it best outside, with the Texas wind howling and the squirrels parading along the fence.
Now that squirrel made me think of when I was a young lad and hunted them in Pennsylvania. I wouldn’t kill one now even if I was very hungry and had a good squirrel recipe. But in each of life’s seasons we think and react differently—even to a similar or identical event. That squirrel is getting into our bird feeder and I am not going to harm it. It makes me think of politicians and how they want to infest our minds with bird seed and make us eat it. More prayer and dissimilar contemplation needed about now.
Last week we met a friend in Hillsboro for lunch. We have known him and his wife (now deceased) for many years. We are fellow linguists with intense interests in language, literacy and anthropology, so you can imagine the stories that got bundled in that meeting.
This week we met another group of friends—there were 14 of us. More stories.
Yesterday I got a Christmas card from a former golfing buddy. Lots of imagination from that happenstance—even a birdie here and there. Some golf stories are actually true.
Many of my friends who are younger are doing something useful: they volunteer at soup kitchens, shelve books at the local library, ring Christmas bells for the Salvation Army, and bake cakes for wounded warriors.
I don’t volunteer—it would interfere with my thinking—and my knees couldn’t take it.