by Joanie Butman
In the divine sequence of life it is only natural that I follow up last week’s Double Nickels by looking at its sequel. 70 might be the new 50, but after a certain age that logic doesn’t necessarily apply. At some point there is just no denying what your body is screaming, “You’re OLD!” And you're left wondering "How did that happen?" There is a myriad of jokes about old age; but in reality, it isn’t a laughing matter. It’s the ultimate betrayal as your body and mind surrender to the effects of time. There are plenty of good reasons many people become grumpy old men – and women.
It is an interesting exercise to study how people choose to deal with their failing minds and bodies – when brain farts become more frequent than digestive ones. I’m only 55 but when I called my girlfriend last night, in the few seconds it took for her to answer I forgot why I called. When parking, I forget my space number before I get to the machine to pay. On the other hand, you never run out of books to read because you can’t remember them. When discussing his failing memory with my Dad, he said that his only fear was that he would forget God. To which I responded, “But He will never forget you.” That’s a truth we can all choose to hold onto regardless of age or infirmity. You don't have to be old to feel forgotten. We all experience loneliness - sometimes even in a crowd.
I mentioned being part of the Sandwich Generation last week. This might be a new term, but it certainly isn’t a new experience. It’s been a reality of life for generations. It’s the natural order of things. It’s funny how similar teenagers and the elderly are. I remember my grandfather sneaking the car out while he was staying with us. And just recently, I called my parents a week after they arrived in Florida. I chided my mom, “You were supposed to call me so I knew you arrived safely.” I just had to laugh because it was the same thing I had said to my daughter when she drove back to college last month.
With teens, drinking and driving is a foremost concern in every parent’s mind. Well, I learned that DUIs apply to any kind of moving vehicle. My sister-in-law arrived at her parents’ assisted living facility once to find the police giving her father a warning that if he had another infraction, his Jazzy (motorized wheelchair) would be temporarily confiscated. No wonder they have a strict two-drink limit at their mixers. Taco Bell’s Viva Young Super Bowl commercial addresses the regression topic with humor. I doubt many octogenarians could stomach fast food anymore, but it’s a testimony to the adage, “It’s not the age, it’s the attitude.”
We’re all aging and will end up in the same place if we live long enough. It’s just a matter of how you choose to do it: kicking and screaming, limping along laden with complaints, sliding into home with gusto, peacefully content that you are here to enjoy another day, or like my friend’s dad, test driving a new vehicle after leaving the DMV where his license was revoked. He’s just cruising into his new normal. You’ve got to admire his spirit. He’s not going down without a fight. As my friend commented, “Good old George has a lot of moxie and determination to boot. Go George, go!”
I attended a meeting last week where another friend shared a valuable piece of wisdom that I’m tempted to tattoo on my body. I just can’t figure out where to put it. It’s hard trying to find a part of my body where it won’t be distorted in the not too distant future into some kind of Rorschach inkblot. She said, “Our life is defined by how we choose to accept God’s will.”We don’t have control over many things in life, least of all the passage of time. But we are always free to choose our response. If it is God’s will for us to live to a ripe old age, who are we to complain? An email I recently received ended with an excellent reminder, "Don't complain about growing old...few people get the privilege."
I have no idea why God chose to give me the gift of time. Why am I still here when I should have been dead years ago? There must be something He still wants me to do is the only answer. I read stories everyday about people who “beat” cancer, attributing their victory to anything from positive attitude to an organic diet. A positive attitude certainly helps, as will a healthy diet and many other practices that are within our control - including finding a good doctor. I certainly didn’t survive because of anything Idid. As my doctor reminds me every time I pester him with questions for which he has no answers, "Ultimately, the decision and timing is God’s alone." True. No one can claim control over that, or predict it, for that matter. We can only honor it by choosing to use whatever time He gives us wisely.
The conclusion I’ve arrived at is that if you’re still here, there must be a reason. Something you may not have considered before is that at some point in life maybe our sole/soul purpose is to give someone else purpose. An infant is a perfect example. They can’t DO anything, but when they smile at you for the first time, it is an indescribable joy. People do the craziest things to elicit a smile from a baby. And if the purpose of our life is to become more childlike in our faith, old age certainly seems to be the remedy for that. In a recent Purpose Driven Life Devotional Rick Warren claims, “Let this sink in: Your first duty is not to do anything but just be loved by God.” Sounds easy, but it is harder than it seems in our task oriented society. Humans have an innate desire to feel needed, to be able to contribute in some way. Even my three-year-old buddy lights up when I ask for his help and is so proud to accomplish a simple task.
Throughout life our purpose is an integral element of our identity. Humans derive their value from their purpose. It must be the hardest part of aging – feeling without purpose. BUT, even though you may feel without purpose doesn’t mean you are. It just might not be the one you want. I haven’t liked every assignment I’ve gotten from God. Some are more fun or rewarding than others – but I think the way we choose to do the ones that aren’t fun reveals more about our character and our relationship with God than those we enjoy. Interestingly enough, the callings I eventually embraced despite my initial "Pick someone else" attitude turned out to be my biggest blessings and the most joy-filled - just not in ways I could have imagined.
Think about it this way. If there were no sick people, doctors wouldn’t have a purpose. If there were no students, teachers wouldn’t have a purpose. It’s the ying and yang of life. ”Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.” There is no greater gift than to show someone you value what they do and how they do it. That present can be given until you take your last breath. You can choose to bring joy to others simply by allowing them to serve you. Regardless of your age or circumstance, you can always choose to offer a smile, to give a word of encouragement, to pray for others, to have a heart of gratitude and appreciation for your caregivers, to bring joy into the lives of those around you. Make no mistake about it, joy is a choice. It is not defined by circumstance. In fact, it defies circumstance. As Mary Neal states in To Heaven and Back, “Joy is a state of mind and a state of being. It reflects a conscious decision to believe in the promises of the Bible.”
Years ago in my bible study group, we were each asked to define the meaning of life. It was a fascinating assignment as the answers were as diverse as our group itself. It is a question we all have to answer for ourselves. I believe the general meaning of life is to serve God, but how you choose to do it personalizes that meaning for each of us. Our purpose(s) change(s) throughout our lives commensurate with age and ability. Plus, we are not one-dimensional beings, so we derive meaning from the many roles in which we serve: mother, daughter, spouse, sister, friend, employee, employer – all covered by our Christian purpose of loving God with all our hearts, soul, strength and mind; and loving our neighbor as ourselves. By carrying out this commandment we infuse God’s love, mercy, kindness and compassion into the lives of others, which is the true meaning of life for me. And I believe that is true at any age in any circustance.
How do you define the meaning of life? Please share your thoughts below.