Elders, Old Men and Children
As many of you know, I’m newly married to Jesseca, and we’re winding our way through the evolving purposes of our relationship. I’m continually amazed at the depth and textures of our love, and the great balance of the masculine-feminine. We’re also blending our extended families and not only am I grandfather to my nearly eight year old grandson, Jaden and uncle to my nieces, Jordan, Sydney, and Paris and their mother, Debbie, but am now stepfather to Jesseca’s two daughters, Serena and Arianna. It’s gotten very clear to me in the last year and a half that I have a very distinct role with these children and ultimately many others.
I’ve also gotten to know Jesseca’s father, Richard, and he and I have struck up a friendship. We’re both the same age—sixty-four—so we immediately have that in common. In actual fact, he’s a few months younger than me, so when he and his two daughters, Victoria and Sarah, joined us while we were on vacation at our friend’s cabin in Lake Arrowhead, I greeted him with, “Hello young man!” During the three days they were there, Richard and I had a couple of opportunities to share a cigar and some stimulating conversation in the evenings.
Richard has had a colorful and rich life, very adventurous, with stories that make my life seem boringly tame. Currently in the process of a divorce, he’s also been physically limited due to a couple of accidents a few months back. He gets around with a cane and has had one successful operation, but is facing further surgery for his back. He’s traversed the territories of several careers in his sixty-four year life span, including a ten-year stint as a minister for his church.
Although Richard is very bright and has a strong spiritual core, he’s also a human being and is going through a fair amount of genuine suffering. He’s particularly chagrined that not only has he had limited activity the past eight months, but after this next operation, he’s likely to be laid up for a few more months. He’s a very physical man, so like others who have had to contend with physical limitations, he just gets frustrated with his body.
In one of our conversations he opened his heart and spoke of his struggle surrendering to the fact that he is now sixty-four years old, which often is considered sort of a doorstep to one’s mortality. I’ve heard some people say there are three times in our life that are “crossover” points, where we can choose at a soul level to leave. In other words, check out, die, pass over, walk off into the sunset, or take a very long vacation from a body. At age sixty-four, you can see that door is getting a little closer, but as in the quiz show, is it behind door number one, two or three?
“Well,” I said, “This past couple of years I’ve had to contend with the fact that I am in fact older than I might delude myself into thinking.” At times, I still hold this self-image of being 35 or so. Then I look in the mirror or feel some of the old football or rugby injuries and I’m reminded of my age. I also look at the children who God has put into my life and know that now as an elder, I have something to offer them.
At this stage in my life, paying attention in all you do as much as you possibly can while considering the generations to come is the lesson at hand, that feeling of offering something of your wisdom, street smarts, and a good story. Not only do I have a close relationship with my daughters, grandson, stepdaughters, and nieces, but have also been invited to do some children’s writing projects.
As Richard and I were talking, and I told him a bit of my story and how I’ve been accepting that what I do for the children that I’m involved with is a big part of my assignment now. I also shared my thoughts of choosing to be either an elder or an old man, and that I choose to consider myself an elder. In fact, from here I’ll be an elder for the rest of my life. Reframing it that way allows me to surrender to my age. And I certainly don’t feel like an old man inside. I touch moments where I feel ageless.
Richard’s comment in response was to say, “Geez! I really don’t want to be an elder!” Yet at the same time I can see that he was contemplating this. What weighs on him the most is the prospect of remaining inactive for several more months, and how challenging it has been since the accident that compromised his ability to walk. I watched one day as he sat in the sunlight, murmuring prayers as he looked out at the trees, the clouds, and the sky. He would also repeat, as if it were a mantra, “God give me the strength,” or when anyone would do something for him, even the smallest action, he would always say, “God bless you.” And he meant it.
He’s a man who is what he is. What you see is what you get with no apologies. I always admire that in a person. He also seems to have recently recaptured that sort of innocent yet wise faith that can only come from years of just living on this planet. I like my new friend and pray for him to remain strong throughout the trials he’s going through.
Thanks, Richard. For being cool.