Age is relative. For instance, to my mom, I’m young while to a twenty-something, I’m old. Either way, when you hit 40, you’re in the back nine, and since my dad died at 63 from a second heart attack (he won the first round), there’s a good chance I’m not getting in a full 18. If you didn’t get the golf reference, I apologize; I’m old and assume people know what I’m talking about. I first recognized the joys of aging when I was 28 since I suddenly gained 10 pounds without doing anything different – not the best day. This same thing happened again at 38 – aging is fun. I feel very blessed to still have most of the hair I started with, but I knew the downhill spiral was picking up when I had to trim my nose and ear hair – delightful. I know some men let these grow, but I’d rather give the illusion I’m young enough to not have that issue. The other sign I was losing my youthfulness was being in my early thirties and waking up sore. Sure, when you’re young you might do something particularly strenuous and you’re sore the next day, but that wasn’t the case for me. I essentially “injured” myself sleeping, the easiest of all tasks. I also have the bladder of a three year old. How do I know? I have a three year old, and whenever I have to go to the bathroom, there’s a good chance my daughter has to as well… although if I’m honest, I go more than her – like a boss. And no there isn’t anything wrong down there; I drink a lot of water because it’s supposed to be healthy (trying to be healthy, another sign of aging). Going through these kinds of physical changes can be discouraging, and we should be nice to old people who aren’t what they used to be because they’re just as frustrated with their physical struggles (if not more) as anyone else. That being said, as I look down the hill that I’m traveling, there are worse things that happen as we age… yea?
From my experience, outside of the physical issues of aging, there are two main categories that are a struggle for people as we get older. First, young people are annoying. Is that too blunt? On some level, we know this even at younger ages. For instance, in my later high school years, I remember looking at grade nines and being annoyed: “They’re so immature!” This is the same thing when you’re 40 accept you look at people in their 20s this way: “They’re so immature!” I never understood why some old people didn’t like when I preached when I was in my twenties, but now I do. They looked at me the way I look at young people: “He’s so immature. What life experience makes him qualified to teach me?” I get it now. I look at what young people do and I wonder what’s wrong with them? Why do they think vaping is a good idea? Why do they think smoking pot is so smart when all the evidence shows under 25 is extra harmful to the brain? Why are there so many “I want special privileges!” groups – get over yourself. Find some friends, get a hobby or sport to play, and have some fun while you can because soon you’ll be old like me wishing you had more free time to see friends and play sports like you did when you were young. Stop telling other people to give you special attention; live your life and let me live mine… If you’re wondering, I’m not sitting on my porch in a rocking chair writing this while shaking my cane at young whipper-snappers on my lawn and yelling at the squirrels. That’ll be in a few years; I’m just in training for being cantankerous.
I should point out that young people can be wonderful – I’m not that crotchety. When I was a youth pastor, I found their hope infectious. Older people need the energy and life of young people to encourage them and help us not get so down about life. We all have our value; young and old have their place. The problem is young people become incredibly annoying when they think they’re better than older generations. It’s healthy for young people to want to re-evaluate how things are done and to want to “fight the man,” because it can bring about healthy change while helping them develop a sense of independence and establishing themselves. What young people need to keep in mind, however, is every generation can only do so much. For instance, when I was in grade 6, there was a big push to start recycling paper. The previous generations shouldn’t be blamed for not recycling paper. Instead, we should be excited we were able to start something so valuable. We don’t want to be condescending to previous generations because every generation will have areas that can be improved. For instance, future generations will wonder why we use plastic, disposable diapers, and clothing that can’t be recycled. Everything sold in a mall will all one day be in a dump – scary. Here’s a question: If I can buy compostable plastic bags for my green bin, why isn’t it mandatory for all plastic to be made of the same product so it breaks down? Hopefully in a few years that’ll be the case, but for now, what power do I have to change that? We shouldn’t accuse generations of being dumb for doing certain things the way they did like how it used to be normal to use your morning urine as mouthwash because you can only do the best you can with what you have. Context is always important to consider. This is especially true because there’s always a new generation with a new idea that improves things… hopefully, or the world will really be in trouble.
Arguably the hardest thing as an old person is change. When you’re old, you’ve see a lot of great things disappear. Recently it was the Disney Store. I know some people don’t care, but those people have terrible taste, so I’m not worried about them (written with a smirk). When you’re old, you’ve seen a lot great things disappear that once made life better. Remember going to the video store and spending hours trying to pick a movie with friends? The journey was half the fun. Remember when kids could sleep on the back window well of a car? Okay, maybe that wasn’t a great idea, but it was funny to see.
When you’re young, you are more likely to love change. You get excited about the next best thing. I remember being annoyed when Facebook came out: “I guess I better join.” And then there was Instagram and I was like “I’m out.” I don’t care about keeping up with all the new changes. As you get older, you like your routines, so you have less conflict (my hatred of drama grows every day) and less to worry about giving you time and energy to do the many other things that need doing, so you can hopefully have a couple minutes to yourself at the end of a day. Sometimes a change in the routine is refreshing, but too many changes can be overwhelming. I’ll admit that sometimes the changes we get are good like I love that we recycle and have a green bin because I love having less garbage. Sure, at first it was annoying having to get used to using it, but now it’s great. Notice the key line there? “At first it was annoying.” When you’re old, all change is annoying, and that’s the challenge. We lose things, so we grieve; we get new things, so we grieve until we adjust. Here’s the key to remember: When you’re old, there’s grief for everything you lose from people you loved to everything that was familiar while at the same time, anything new, even if it’s good for us, can be a challenge to accept and use. I remember being upset having to work from home… yeah, I don’t know why now. It’s been amazing. When you’re young, life is about discovery and then it becomes more about trying not to lose what you discovered you loved. In some ways, life just gets a little harder everyday with things like increasing prices or new world tragedies, which add up with all the others you’ve seen. Being old, you know what you’ve lost, which is why people working in a company for twenty years can have some resentment while a new hire is excited to just have a job. My daughters won’t know what’s changed in the world from covid, and all world disasters I’ve seen in my lifetime will just be another blip in a history book (if at all).
My grandpa used to say, “Better days are coming,” and then he died of emphysema, which was largely the result of lung damage from being a firefighter in Great Britain during World War 2 (an experience I’ll never fully understand). As a Christian, this statement works if you mean “better days” are when we go to heaven, but otherwise, this saying is a lie because life just gets more and more challenging and then we die. Does that sound depressing? It should because it is and that’s why old people can struggle. When you don’t have the distractions of what’s next, this is what you see. When you’re old you see the end, which is emphasized by seeing the end of so many people we once loved and those we enjoyed knowing were around even if we didn’t see them like old teachers and parents’ friends. This is why I love the Jewish book, Ecclesiastes because it reminds me of the bigger picture beyond the depressing reality of life with verses like “And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God,” (Ecc 3:13) and “To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life – this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past.” (Ecc 5:19b-20). And what better way to say that we should be nice to older people than to look to the wisdom of those who came before?
Bonus: Being old isn’t always an age thing. I find being old can also be connected to where you are in life. For instance, when you’re married, have kids, your home is in order, and your career is in place, because all the major hurdles of life are done, you’re now living the grind without anything really big to look forward to, so you can feel old even in your twenties. I know for me, all my friends are well established, so the only thing new to hear about are divorces, aging parent issues, who died, and the various tragedies of life. There’s a reason old people don’t have a lot of uplifting daily conversation pieces. All the hope you once had as a child is gone. Everything you dreamed of and planned on is in motion or out of your reach. You’re no longer dreaming of making it on a professional sports team; you’re dreaming of when you can have a nap, which you know is sad, but still so enticing. When you’re young, people can ask you what classes you’re taking, what do you want to be one day, or where do you see yourself living? Old people ask, “What’s your job?” or “How’s work?” and when you retire, you don’t even have those questions anymore. For people who don’t find new life after retirement volunteering (aka a job you do for free) and being involved in different activities that fill up a calendar, all there is to talk about is what other people are doing or your aches and pains, which are exacerbated because you don’t have anything else to really think about. That’s why people like Dick Van Dyke and William Shatner adamantly preach “Don’t retire!” They say change jobs or where you are involved, but never stop being busy. We need a reason to live. The same goes for people of any age. We need responsibilities; we need a reason to get up in the morning. There’s a reason people who take long stress leaves from work rarely end up going back healthy. Being off too long can actually make things worse if you’re not doing enough with your time. We need a steady flow of accomplishments, working on skills that give us confidence, and reconnecting with necessary relationships. Sometimes not working is the worst thing for someone because they can shut down and shut off from the world, which only increases anxiety later when they have to re-emerge into it. Whether it’s sick leave or age, we need purpose even if it’s doing dishes or feeding someone/something. If you have a 90 year old grandmother, ask her to help you do simple things like dust. We need to feel valued. Having everything done for you isn’t a gift; it’s a curse.
This week may you see the value in yourself and those around you no matter your age.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)