“Well, you got old, too! I give up!”
That was the greeting offered to me recently by a cherished (and dare I say?) old friend who is one of my respected predecessors in my present (for almost 35 years) pulpit.
In his Gospel, St. Luke tells us that when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and “greeted” her, Mary was “deeply troubled and wondered what manner of greeting this might be” (1:29).
The Bible writers almost never waste words in describing events, but my suspicion is that Mary was deeply troubled even before the perplexing greeting. With few, if any, exceptions in the Bible, folks who see angels are scared almost to death; their first worry is not that the angel’s introductory remarks are unusual. The angel always has to proffer some version of “Fear not!” prior to delivering God’s message. Gabriel will get to the “fear not” part in the very next verse.
All that to say that, ever since I received it, I’ve been (mostly) smilingly pondering “what manner of greeting” my friend’s recent salutation might have been. I’m afraid I know.
You see, I’ve just celebrated another birthday. (I celebrated two, actually. My oldest granddaughter and I were born one week less than 50 years apart. Our larger family got together this year for Christmas and our two birthdays on the same day.)
The good news is that I’m still kicking and, if our clownish politicians (both sides of the aisle) don’t screw it up further, Social Security and Medicare may ere long be within my reach.
Back to the greeting proffered by my friend.
It was three days after my birthday. Along with a host of others (“host” is a preacher word which should be interpreted as “a big bunch”), we were both at the funeral of an amazing mentor, colleague, and friend, a veteran minister, 99 years old, who had loved and pastored, taught and inspired, all who were gathered that day and so many, many more. My own father had died 20 years (to the day) before this good man and, had he lived, would have been 106 just a few days before this service. Both “knights” in God’s kingdom, they loved and respected each other deeply, and when time came for each to be laid to rest, well, those were sweet times, mighty convocations of gratitude when many gathered to thank our High King for such lives.
Yes, the beauty and significance of this occasion was profound. In the midst of it, though, a side point. I know and love deeply so very many of those who were present that day. I just don’t see many of them very often. (One or two commented on my beard; I’ve had it for almost 30 years.) So, not to be unkind here, may I just say that I had noticed that many were looking a good bit older than they did when we last enjoyed each other’s company.
Ah, but the picture one carries in his head of oneself often defies what he sees in the mirror. I’ve wondered what pictures of themselves the human gerbils on the treadmills at 24-hour gyms see as they toil along vainly—and maybe even somewhat valiantly—trying to trample on the clock and defy gravity. I am trying to get used to seeing my Granddaddy Key looking back at me from the mirror, but that still is not the picture of me I see in my own head.
“Bodily exercise” is of “some value,” the Bible says, but “training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).
An event such as I’ve described, and the verse just quoted, leads me to another Scripture. If we want to gain “a heart of wisdom,” the psalmist says, our prayer should be, “Lord, teach us to number our days” (Psalm 90).
That will put a “You got old, too!” greeting in perspective and make it much less “troubling.”
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Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.