Since last we talked I have turned 51. I mention this fact not to solicit cards or felicitations, but only to share with you a pretty funny line sent me by my friend Mike, a pastor buddy from college and seminary days. A bit of background: Mike fell off the same chronological precipice as I back in September and the other day we were commiserating a bit by email, eventually confessing one to the other—and surprisingly, we each of us acknowledged—how this birthday had hit us a harder lick than last.
We are not vain, for the most part. Not fatalists or despairing. We were just stewing a bit, I guess you’d say, in a watery broth of cyber-melancholy with a pinch of age-related funk.
And yes, I know: birthdays are just dates; years are just numbers; you are only as old as you feel. And no, 51 is not all that old—not old at all they way some people see it. All I can say is that Mike and I were feeling pretty old the day we were talking about it. “I have lost 30 yards off my drive,” Mike lamented but, really, he didn’t have that much to lose (as I reminded him, one good friend to another). “I can’t remember the half of what I read,” I countered, “you know, like I could when we were in seminary.” He replied, “You didn’t read half of what you were supposed to, and still don’t, from the sound of it” (Mike rereads Tolkien every year; also, he is also a stickler about grammar). “It’s these new bifocals,” I protested. “I can’t see.” He wrote back, “I know what you mean.” Both of us have new glasses and are, therefore, blind as bats.
As a matter of course, we compared our various aches and pains, and not all of them orthopedic, either. Some of the pains we spoke of were a little closer to the heart: regrets, missteps, lost opportunities, unraveled friendships—that kind of thing. It was not serious therapy, by any means, or even deep wallowing; more the kind of discussion old friends have now and then when their paths have diverged radically and the years have passed all too quickly.
And then Mike said something to save the day. He recalled how the night before he was in his favorite chair, disheveled, feet up, diet coke in hand, chin on chest and more or less asleep as he “watched the game.” He started snoring, which woke him in time to hear one of his kids crack on the old man’s posture and general appearance. Mike roused up to inform the upstart that he, Mike, had “achieved the status of a head gorilla, which means I get sit around in the shade, eat what I want, develop a paunch, sleep a great deal, and act a little surly from time to time, all without undue guilt.” King Kong, in other words, just more domesticated.
That to say, if age has its ravages it also has its privileges. (Note to Staff-Parish Committee: if ever you get a complaint about me beating my chest and baring my teeth, bellowing and tossing books here and there, you will know what happened.)