Just Watching – June 2019

The June 2018 R and C Resources Just Watching word-of-the-month was perennial.   Perennial is an adjective that normally describes flowers or plants or vegetables that endure and that recur annually – like daffodils, day lilies, asparagus and hosta.  So, what does that have to do with me?  Read on, please.

I wrote:  “Recently an aging-expert used perennial in reference to me and other men and women in my age bracket”.  She says that we not only endure but that we keep renewing – coming back – year after year.  We don’t bloom and die.  We bloom, die and bloom again year after year after year.   She’s not talking about dying on earth before we live again in heaven.  She’s talking about how many of us take a licking and keep on ticking right here!  We endure and year after year, like perennial plants and flowers, we bloom again.  The May, 2018 AARP Bulletin cited Dr. Laura Carsten, “…a top aging expert who is on staff at Stanford University”, as the source for that insight. 

Imagine that!  Me – and others out there my age and beyond – age on in this world long past what is supposed to be our prime and do so as healthy and enduring perennials.  Less than a hundred and fifty years ago, sez Dr. Carsten, “aging” and companion words like geriatrics and gerontology weren’t even part of a university’s vocabulary let alone having a full time faculty member who specialize in aging.   Dr. Carsten wrote, “When I was in graduate school 30 years ago, old age was considered to be pathological…”  (That means something that is involved in, caused by, or of the nature of a physical or mental disease.)   She continues, “…and I went along with that.  But when I began studying elders I found that they were really doing well emotionally, even when they weren’t doing so well physically.  They were generous, thoughtful and emotionally complex.  And I thought ‘If those qualities are growing as our population is aging, then we’d be idiots not to see aging as a resource for improving society’.”   What a fortuitous flip-flop!

It’s when she came to that conclusion she shifted gears and began describing people 70 and beyond as “perennials” and in the process became a recognized specialist in one of life’s basic and on-going activities: aging.  Put another way, Seniors and Super-Seniors keep growing in usefulness for as long as they live.  The big 2019 surprise is that Super-Seniors (men and women over 85 years of age) have become a huge demographic segment, 490,000 strong, with no end of growth in sight.  As significant as is their numbers is the significant and often unrecognized servant roles they fulfill in their families and in their communities. 

Audie and I know what that means from observation and personal experience as we recently zipped past our 90th birthdays, Audie first and me a few months behind.   Audie’s 90th birthday followed the pattern of her mother’s side of her family.  She has lots of over-90 distaff ancestors. 

But when I match up my 90th birthdate to the birthdates of all the ancestral males in my lineage I’m all alone.  Checking my Mueller roots I have become the oldest Mueller male in direct descent going back to the 1650s and, since there are no older records, maybe a thousand years beyond.   I am doing my perennial, post-90, male thing while trying to feel my way along on an earthly serving path upon which none of my ancestors have trod.   I’m heading into a perennial tomorrow of continuing growth and expanding service but with no male ancestors to guide me.  And with not a whole lot of other help elsewhere, either.  Look out for the imminent Super-Seniors! 

When I embarked as a pastor in the early 1950s “old age” meant working toward being maybe “three score years and ten”.   In those days that’s when old men and women were thought of as rocking away on some Old Folks Home’s front porch, wound down and worn out waiting for Gabriel’s sweet chariot to swing low for them.  How did I fail to notice that Scripture has more to say about living life’s last days to their fullest as Seniors and Super-Seniors than at any of the earlier age cohorts?

But here we Seniors and Super-Seniors are with little or no sense of imminent departure.  One of our doctors (please note the plural) recently told my wife and me that we don’t look or act like people who are “old”.  Given our present state of intellectual, physical, social and spiritual vigor (compared to what I was expecting to feel like at 90) I don’t think of myself as “old” either.  We’ve both got things to do!

Don’t get me wrong – we ain’t what we used to be.  We pop lots of pills and the speed with which we do almost everything is much slower than it was once.  But we look forward to our life’s agenda every morning and face an abundance of fresh and demanding issues each day. God has fascinating new challenges for us every day.  Few are like those we dealt with in past life stages.  We have changed.  Our world has changed.  Our choices have changed.  Our Super-Senior, post-90 world understands Wayne Dyer’s significant comment that “When you change the way you look at a thing the thing you look at changes”.  Maybe that’s what keeps things so exciting!

That means that we perennials, with our descendants, daily face heretofore unknown issues.  We can’t act as if we are not in the jet age, the electronic age, and the age of scientific discovery in which change is a constant.  We have to think ahead to the very different world not only of our children, but our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren – and plan for it.   Today’s world isn’t what Audie and I foresaw when we married in 1953.  But then we didn’t expect to be 90, either.

My 1942 Confirmation sang a hymn the first line of which was, “Lord, take my hand and lead me long life’s way.”   Over the 77 years since the eight of us sang that song He has done just that for me.  With Him as Leader, even when I have been such a poor follower, I’ve had a great life.  And it’s not over yet.  There’s more beyond.

Believing that I wonder what He yet has in mind for me as I follow His lead in my Super-Senior perennial world?  Is there even more to come before Audie and I (and you) go home?

That remains to be seen.  Yes, indeedy!