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On Bumper Cars and Harpoons
We are all in training for the days to come. If we are impatient, unkind and unforgiving, we won't wake up at 65 to discover that people want to be around us.

I've been hanging out in nursing homes a little earlier than I planned, now that Mom finds herself a permanent resident in this one-storey unit a mile from our house. Here, some of the inmates are aging gracefully. Like gold medal figure skaters, they are gliding through the golden years, smiling sweetly, bringing joy to others.

My grandfather Callaway was a combination of the graceful and the geezer.

Then 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. 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 use only two buttons on their shirt. The ladies wear dresses they bought from the tent and awning company and have their hair dyed neon blue.

My 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. "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?"

Grandpa gained a lot of weight in those days, and we saved money on groceries.

I once enjoyed an evening with a 75-year-old by the name of Donald Cole. Mr. Cole hosts a radio show and travels the country, speaking at conferences. 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 and challenge you to a race.

I got thinking about how nice it would be to jog when I'm 75. 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. I said, "Boy, I'd sure like to be running like that when I'm your age."

He said,"Are you running now?"

I coughed slightly. I said, "I...ahem...came third in a relay once."

He said, "If you aren't running now, you won't be then."

And it hit me that all of us are in training for the days to come. If we are impatient, unkind and unforgiving, we won't wake up at 65 to discover that people want to be around us. This made me wonder: What kind of an old guy will I be? And how should I live so my kids will want to visit me in the nursing home? By then 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.

The older people I admire are those who live life on purpose. I fear that if some of us wrote down a mission statement, it would look something like this:

I will consider myself a success when I'm rich enough to do nothing but travel and eat. When I can have it the way I want it, when the jerks around here start leaving me alone, when I've got a big screen TV and nothing but time to watch it. I will consider myself a success when the world wakes up to the fact that I'm marvellous.

Contrast this with the attitude of Dave Epp. Dave taps on my Mom's door twice a week and she's always glad to see him. After mourning the loss of his wife to cancer, Dave decided to use his pain by becoming a hospital chaplain: visiting those who can't get out, encouraging them, joking with them, and praying for them. Dave could wallow in bitterness, but he lives life on purpose, with significance.

The older people I admire still have their sense of humour intact. They are reading good books, learning new truths and discussing things besides the weather. They smile more than they have reason to, laugh when they probably shouldn't, and talk to children and babies and pets.

I 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, so I pinned it to her bulletin board. Here it is:

You are not too old until you stop making new friends,
Until you start fighting change.
You are not too old until your past is bigger than your future,
Until you think the bad old days were all good.
Until you talk more of ills, spills, wills, and bills than thrills.
Until you begrudge the spotlight turned on a younger generation
And stop shining it on them yourself.
You are not too 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.

I am happy to report that the poem is still there. So far no one has harpooned it with a cane.

Phil Callaway is the editor of Servant magazine, author of a dozen books and a popular speaker. His web site is:

Originally published in testimony, October 2007.

Used with permission.  Copyright © 2008




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