As I was running as hard as I could between second and third base this past week, I could feel it. My left quadriceps were tightening up to the point where I could feel them quitting. Kendall Griffith was the third base coach and was directing me to run on, so I guess it wasn’t that obvious that I was struggling to move. I rounded the base and tried to make it home. I saw the ball zooming from left field past shortstop and toward the catcher. If I had been running the speed that I was acquainted with being able to run, I would have been about two steps from home plate already, but with this new sensation of concrete thighs, I was only halfway between third and home, so I turned back as I saw the catcher grab hold of the ball. He looked at me and I looked at him, and I turned back toward third, watching him to see when he threw the ball so I’d know when to slide back into base. I did so, and I made it without the third baseman tagging me, but I was called out anyway. Had I scored, we would have been ahead by 2 runs, and maybe more, since others were on base and it was the third out. As it was, we lost the game 5-6. An improvement, for sure, but a rude awakening for me that I’m about to join a new age bracket on my birthday August 4.
It probably seems amusing to some of you who have gone through the aches and pains of aging. I’m probably too young to be feeling such tight muscles, but I’m evidently too old to be showing up to the game a few minutes before it starts and playing my hardest without stretching my legs first. I plan to show up to the next game in plenty time to stretch out before the game starts, but something about the realization that simply using my body in strenuous activity without first preparing it is a bygone era has me thinking about age and what I have witnessed as a minister to people who are coping with much more dramatic “losses” due to the constraints of their age. I have listened to many dear church members who suffer a loss of a sense of independence when they have to move out of their own home or stop driving their car. One dear lady who is the friend of a clergy colleague of mine had to give up her license after hitting Lara in a car accident a few years ago. This particular milestone, if people make it there, is quite depressing for some people, especially if they have to be convinced that it is time to quit driving by family members or health workers, and aren’t quite ready to make that transition on their own. I have been present with others who are having to make the move from home to a health facility or assisted living of some sort. It has always been remarkable to me what grace I’ve witnessed people showing in this transition. I’ve also witnessed middle age parishioners deal with the delicate subject bringing up these necessary changes with their parents. It’s not a happy task, and there have been times when I’ve been present in the situation in an effort to “soften the blow.”
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of aging is coping with memory loss. Memory loss is a fairly ubiquitous experience of aging, but is sometimes due to Alzheimer’s disease. With those who are experiencing the typical sort of memory loss, there are sometimes emotions of embarrassment or frustration that accompany the experience. When I am involved in a conversation with someone suffering memory loss, I have found it is best to simply respond with patience without trying to “guess where they were going” and “fill in the blanks” for what they are trying to say, unless they ask for my help. I figure people have enough people in their lives who are quick to make assumptions and fill in the details, and an aspect of holy conversation is sometimes just sitting with one another in silence anyway.
However one may be experiencing the effects of aging, we are reminded by the Psalms and other scriptures that God is with us throughout the experience. Isaiah 46:4 says “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”
As the hymn goes, “O God our help in ages past, our hope in years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home.”
Though our scriptures sometimes speak with pain and lamentation about the effects of aging, it is clear that the elderly are to be venerated. Leviticus 19:32 commands us to “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly.” Though many “breakdowns” of the body may cause us to complain “it stinks getting old,” our scriptures teach us to rely on God’s care in the midst of the hardships and to pass on wisdom to the generations that follow.