bumper cars and harpoons
been hanging out in nursing homes a little earlier than planned, and
I’ve discovered that some of the inmates have managed to age
gracefully, like gold-medal figure skaters. They are gliding through
the golden years, smiling sweetly, bringing joy to others.
there are those who are determined to seek vengeance by using their
wheelchairs as bumper cars and their canes as harpoons. When the
grandkids visit they spend the time whining about how the grandkids
never visit. For them the glass is not just half empty; it’s
cracked, chipped, and the lemonade is sour. To say they are lacking
fashion sense is like saying the Pacific is wet. The men wear black
knee socks and wing-tipped white shoes. They only use two buttons on
their shirt. The ladies wear dresses they bought from the tent and
awning company and have their hair dyed neon blue.
grandfather Callaway was a combination of the graceful and the
geezer. He loved a good laugh, but he also loved to talk about his
ailments once the entire family had gathered around the dinner table
and the food had been doled out. Then suddenly, it was organ recital
time: “So I remember when the doctors had to root through me and
take out my spleen. Stayed awake for the whole thing. Watched ’em
dig it outta there all wrinkled and green. I asked ’em to pickle
it for me. Put it in a jar. I kept it for years on the counter.
Looked like a big hairy cucumber. Hey, where’s everybody going?
Mind if I eat your carrots?”
gained a lot of weight in those days, and we saved money on
loved and admired my grandfather immensely. He gave me money
whenever I visited him, and though God had delivered him from
alcoholism, he was the only man I’ve ever met who bought cough
syrup in bulk, drinking it straight from the bottle.
once enjoyed an evening with a seventy-five-year-old by the name of
Donald Cole. Mr. Cole travels the country speaking at conferences
and hosts a radio show during which he dispenses spiritual advice to
callers, grown-ups and five-year-olds alike. During our
conversation, Mr. Cole mentioned to me that he runs several miles a
day, which caught me off guard—like having a guy in a Smart Car
pull up to a stoplight beside you, glance your way, and rev his
got to thinking about how nice it would be to jog when I turn
seventy-five. Maybe it’s something my wife and I could do
together. She could drive me out of town and drop me off—it would
give purpose to my running. So I said something dumb to Mr. Cole,
which is not something that took me entirely by surprise, because I
seem to bounce between not opening my mouth wide when I should and
opening it far too wide when I shouldn’t. I said, “Boy, I’d
sure like to be running like that when I’m your age.”
said, “Are you running now?”
coughed slightly. I said, “I…ahem…came in third in a relay
said, “If you aren’t running now, you won’t be then.”
other words, if I sit around eating lard-filled doughnuts in my
thirties, when I turn sixty-five, my chances of waddling much
farther than the refrigerator aren’t great.
it hit me that all of us are in training for the days to come. That
if we are impatient, unkind, and unforgiving, we won’t wake up at
sixty-five to discover that people want to be around us. This made
me wonder: What kind of an old guy will I be? And how do I
live so my kids will want to visit me in the nursing home? By then,
as the old saying goes, I will have silver in my hair, gold in my
teeth, lead in my feet, and lots of natural gas, but I won’t be
wealthy without friends.
older people I admire are those who have exercised the right creases
on their face. Not the ones of petulance and complaint, but the ones
turned upward on either side of their eyes. They live life on
purpose. I fear that if some of us wrote down a mission statement it
would look something like this:
will consider myself a success when I’m rich enough to do nothing
but travel and eat and collect sea shells; when I can have it the
way I want it; when the jerks around here start leaving me alone. I
will consider myself a success when my wife wakes up to the fact
that I’m marvelous, when I’ve got a big-screen TV and nothing
but time on my hands to watch it.
this with the attitude of my friend Dave Epp. (That's not a picture
of Dave on the right!) Dave visits the hospital a few times a week
and Mom is always glad to see him. After mourning the loss of his
wife to cancer, Dave decided to use his pain, becoming a hospital
chaplain, visiting those who can’t get out, encouraging them with
the love of Jesus, joking with them, and praying for them. Dave
could wallow in bitterness, but he lives life on purpose, with
older people I admire still have their sense of humor intact. Anne
Lamott calls laughter “carbonated holiness.” Gerald Wheatley is
so full of the stuff that you can almost hear him fizz. Last Sunday
he greeted me in our church foyer with a new joke from the corny
patch. “Did you hear about the guy who walks
into a bar and asks, ‘Does anyone here own that Rottweiler
hadn’t heard about the guy, but I knew I was about to.
biker stands up, says. ‘Yeah, that’s my dog. What about it?’
think my chihuahua killed him.’
biker laughs. ‘What? How
could your little runt kill my Rottweiler?’
stuck in his throat.’”
you walk past a room and hear laughter, you want to find out
what’s causing it.
things give us more hope than a seventy-five-year old who is reading
good books, learning new truths, and discussing things besides the
weather. She smiles more than she has reason to, laughs when she
probably shouldn’t, and talks to children and babies and pets.
wrote down a few more things I admire in older people. It came out
as a little poem and I showed it to my mother. She smiled her
approval, then gave me the kind of look that says, You’re
young. One day you’ll understand that it isn’t all easy.
Still I pinned it to the bulletin board so she could show it to her
friends. Here it is:
are not old
Until you stop making new friends,
Until you start fighting
You are not old
Until your past is bigger than your
Until you think the bad
old days were all good.
Until you talk more of ills, spills, wills, and bills
Until you begrudge the spotlight
Turned on a younger
And stop shining it on them yourself.
You are not old
As long as you can pray.
As long as you have the inner
strength to ask
How can I spread hope around?
How can I get the most out of the years I have left?
How can I make others homesick for heaven?
You are young at heart
Until you decide you aren’t.
am happy to report that the little poem is still there, still pinned
to the bulletin board. So far no one has harpooned it with a cane.
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