Monthly Archives: October 2011
Last weekend I went deer hunting on Mule Mountain with two friends (yes, there really is a place called Mule Mountain, though I’ve never seen any mules there). By the way, don’t worry about the deer; they are perfectly safe when I go hunting. The older I get the more I hunt for the male camaraderie. At least that’s what I tell myself. In reality I can’t see or hear as well as I used to and so the deer are long gone before I come stomping through their neighborhood.
Anyhow, one of my buddies (I’ll call him John) and I were in position to hunt from the summit of Mule Mountain down the west side to a spot where my other buddy (I’ll call him Carl) was waiting in case we jumped a buck that might run out ahead of us, thus affording Carl an opportunity to bag the crafty creature. Carl hiked up the Mountain part way to get in position.
You need to know that Carl is eighty-five and doesn’t hear well. This makes for some interesting conversations between Carl, John and me on the two-way radios we use to keep track of each other when we’re thrashing around in the woods. Carl is John’s dad and just before we started down the Mountain, John called Carl on the radio to let him know we were beginning the hunt. The conversation went something like this:
“Dad, are you there?” said John.
“Is that you, John?” said Carl.
“Yes, we’re at the top, ready to come down,” said John.
“You’re going where?” said Carl.
“I’m coming down the old jeep road and Grady’s coming down the ridge above Stony Creek,” said John.
“One of you guys oughta come down the old jeep road and the other oughta come down the ridge above Stony Creek,” said Carl.
I couldn’t help but laugh a little. Not at Carl, but at the absurdity of the human condition. It’s funny how we tend to focus on our failing abilities as we age. I don’t know about you but I need new glasses every couple of years. Arthritis is rearing its ugly head in the most inconvenient places in my body. I have lost much of my high-frequency hearing. And my stomach no longer tolerates Thai cuisine. Our bodies can be a source of tremendous disappointment. But then it dawned on me: Carl is eighty-five and still hiking and hunting in the mountains. You can walk into any assisted living or skilled nursing facility and find eighty-five year old men sitting in wheel chairs, barely able to scoot themselves down the hall to the dining room.
It’s astounding that Carl is still so active in the outdoors. How is it possible at his age? Well, genetics probably help. But I’d bet it has a lot to do with Carl’s nature. He doggedly remains active and he doesn’t seem to worry about much. He goes to garage sales. He collects and recycles iron and brass. He buys used trailers and fixes them up for resale. He takes clothing to a local charity. And this is crucial: he has something to look forward to. In his case, it’s deer season. He also does not isolate himself from people. If we want a prosperous and invigorating life, we need something to look forward to. It can be the annual deer hunt. It can be the opening weekend of trout season. It can be crafts like making jewelry or a passion like cooking or making wine. It can be training a dog, but not a cat. It can be almost anything that you look forward to with anticipation. It’s important that, whatever it is, it gets you out doing something. Movement is life.
All my life of faith I’ve heard how we Christians look forward to heaven. And I do look forward to heaven. But heaven transcends this earthly life of hardship and struggle. I think it is perfectly acceptable to petition God for something to look forward to here and now. In fact, I think God smiles when we have something to look forward to on this side of heaven. And without it we might be shortening our lives.
Last Saturday I rushed my wife to the emergency room. We thought something was wrong with her heart, but thankfully it turned out to be nothing serious. They ran some lab tests while we waited in a little room in the bowels of the ER. As the minutes slowly passed, I noticed that the ER was filling up. It got so full that they were placing patients on gurneys in the hallway. One elderly woman caught my attention. She was an elegant lady with pure white hair. She was dressed in navy blue slacks with a cream colored blouse. She looked regal except for the ugly diagonal gash across the bridge of her nose and a purple lump above her right eye. I suspected she had fallen. I was right. A nurse eventually stopped by and asked her some medical questions. One question and response caught my attention.
“Do you use a cane to get around?” the nurse asked.
“No, and I do not intend to,” said the elderly woman. “This is the first time I have fallen. I was getting out of the car and I just got in too much hurry.”
This won’t be the last time she falls, I thought to myself. You see, falling is one of the biggest hazards for the elderly. The young can trip and fall, flail around, and bounce back with nary a scratch or bruise. Not so with the brittle elderly. Simple falls can be life-threatening for older folk. My aunt fell and broke her hip. The pain and after-effects of surgery killed her. Aging diminishes our sense of balance and this increases the likelihood of falling.
Now don’t get me wrong, I admire the generation that came before me. They had a grit and toughness that subsequent generations lack. Unfortunately, a byproduct of that toughness is pride. Now the way I see it, wisdom is way more valuable than toughness or pride, even if it’s just the wisdom to use a cane to help us keep our balance. Lately, I think of my Bible somewhat like a cane. But what is the Bible, really? It has been called a manual for living, a moral code, a love letter from God, a history document, a map to salvation and many other things.
Many people who love the Bible might abhor the notion that the Bible is a crutch, which is exactly what a cane is. I wonder . . . does the use of a cane imply weakness? Perhaps to some! To me it reveals the heart of a person willing to examine their life and embrace the reality of needing assistance. Pride obscures our ability to see ourselves as we really are—weak, frail, unbalanced. Like that old saying: pride goes before a fall.
So I’m okay with it, with using my Bible like a cane. The world can mock me, call me weak-minded. Fine! At least I’m willing to face the truth about my spiritual handicap, and the Bible is the perfect prosthesis to help keep my balance . . . and Lord knows I’m unbalanced (joking, sort of). The Bible doesn’t answer all my questions. Nevertheless, it protects me from the big hazards, but only if I use it.
Now that I’m well into middle age, I can definitely tell that my body is wearing out. Gone is that exquisite feeling of youthful immortality and energy only to be replaced by . . . what? Wisdom, insight, maturity? Perhaps! I used to think many people turned to God, the Bible and religion as they grew old because of the feeling of death looking over their shoulder. In other words, people need a comfort as time runs out and they approach that step into the unknown. But I recently read something that changed my perspective on why we draw close to God in our latter years. It’s out of the book “Brave New World,” by Aldous Huxley. I’ve included it below. I hope you enjoy it and meditate on it.
“A man grows old; he feels in himself that radical sense of weakness, of listlessness, of discomfort, which accompanies the advance of age; and, feeing thus, imagines himself merely sick, lulling his fears with the notion that this distressing condition is due to some particular cause, from which, as from an illness, he hopes to recover. Vain imaginings! That sickness is old age; and a horrible disease it is. They say that it is the fear of death and of what comes after death that makes men turn to religion as they advance in years. But my own experience has given me the conviction that, quite apart from any such terrors or imaginings, the religious sentiment tends to develop as we grow older; to develop because, as the passions grow calm, as the fancy and sensibilities are less excited and less excitable, our reason becomes less troubled in its working, less obscured by the images, desires and distractions, in which it used to be absorbed; whereupon God emerges as from behind a cloud; our soul feels, sees, turns towards the source of all light; turns naturally and inevitably; for now that all that gave to the world of sensations its life and charms has begun to leak away from us, now that phenomenal existences is no more bolstered up by impressions from within or from without, we feel the need to lean on something that abides, something that will never play us false—a reality, an absolute and everlasting truth. Yes, we inevitably turn to God; for this religious sentiment is of its nature so pure, so delightful to the soul that experiences it, that it makes up to us for all our other losses.”