Just Watching – October 2019

It has been a year now since Audie and I made “the move”.   On the edge of 90 years of age we joined Abraham, Sara and Lot in putting our Ur of the Chaldees (101 Villa Way in Bloomingdale) in our rear view mirror and headed for our new “Ur” known as  Windsor Park Manor (130 Windsor Park Drive C304, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188).   Our e-mail and cell phone addresses remain the same but the telephone land line number has changed to 630-933-9395. 

As I write down all those numbers needed to find us, I found a post card that was addressed to my grandfather, William Steinkamp, in the1890s.  It was addressed: Teacher Steinkamp, Topeka, Kansas.  That’s all – and he got it.  But skip or invert any digit in my numerical descriptives and my mail is likely to end up in the dead letter box of Pocatello, Idaho.

In my current circumstance I am reminded of George Burn’s line about reaching 95 years of age.  He said, “If I’d known I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself.”  My spin on that is that if I’d known how tough it would be to move our residence at 90 years of age, I would have taken that step at 80, or even earlier.  So also say many who at our age are experiencing their own challenging pilgrim’s progress.

During all this transitioning, I turned to three things Dr. Roger Weise, a highly regarded Chicago area geriatrician (and LCMS pastor’s son) said about ageing.  Each stands on its own two feet.  Together they help shape my understanding of what’s going on in this nonagenarian world.

  1. Age is change over time.
  2. As we age it takes us longer to adapt to change.
  3. The older we are the more unique we become.

Fussing with the implications of #1 I keep forgetting that change is a constant.  A constant.  A 21st century constant!  Which means that every dawn brings a brand-new day, unlike any from my past.

New days are like Moses’ manna.  As time passes, all my “yesterdays” get stale and lose their freshness.  That thought is nothing new. Centuries ago Greeks said, “panta rhei”, their Roman neighbors, “tempus fugit”, English pots of the past, “time flies” and more recently a Beatle’s Golden Oldie, “The Times They are A’changin”.  They are all the same song derived from who knows where.  

In a more expansive way, ancient Romans anticipated Dr. Weise’s insight more than 2,000 years ago with, “Tempore mutantur et nos mutamur in illes” (The times are changing, and we are changing in them).

I don’t want to swamp you with foreign languages, but it is important to remember we are not the first people to face what happens when time and my age converge.  One word: change, even unpredictable change.

I also like Wiese’s #2 and #3.  Change doesn’t become easier as time passes and I age, nor do I become something better, not only as compared to others but as compared to what I was in the past.  Like my age peers all around me I have trouble remembering names; familiar words escape me; specific memories fade.  I need and receive constant and unsolicited assistance from so many people to keep me abreast of what’s going on!

All he says that applies to me applies to my declining pool of peers even as age related denial is rampant – and often laughable.  Many don’t see that rumbling steam engine of change high-ballin’ down our life’s main line, bell ringing and whistle blowing even as Johnny Cash sings, “Do you hear that train a-commin’?”  Well, do I – we – they?  Its name is Change!

As I’ve aged, I have noticed that today’s younger folks-families-congregations accept, adapt to and then adopt with ease lots of change with which I struggle.  Many have not adopted Alexander Pope’s 1711 advice (which shows how long this thing about change has been around),

“Be not the first by whom the new are tried,

Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.”

In that quote I didn’t pick up on his “are tried” in the past.   Pope’s “the new” that “are tried” is a plural.  There’s a lot of new going around.  Some of it turns out pretty good.  Others not so much.  (I was relieved when Michael finally rowed his boat ashore – or did he?)  In any case let it be known that change has historically been a constant.  It still is.  

While all this has been going on older people like Audie and me have plowed ahead.  We have downsized our home three times and, in the process, reluctantly dumped “tons” of what we no longer use, and our kids don’t want, much of which was so important in the past.

Weise’s Observation #3 makes sense: “…with the passing years, each of us become more unique, unencumbered with much of yesterday’s absolutes”, aka “yesterday’s irrelevancies”.

The truth seems to be that one way or another as change takes place in people/families/churches, what we are and take on are more unique as the years pass.  It’s fascinating how older churches take on a patina of uniqueness while denying change.  One nameless “old lady” refused for years to translate its original German language Constitution into English even though only a few spoke their mother tongue.  When tough issues arose they would tussle with it long enough to develop a kind of group consensus and then ask the pastor, whom they all trusted and whom they believed read German, what their hallowed document had to say on the subject.  Once he sensed what the group was ready – or not ready – to do, he announced that he believed their group opinion was supported by their Constitution!  He was their 20th century Oracle of Delphi. 

That church also had Easter Sunrise Services in a downtown park – at 9:30am, yet – for two reasons: 1) with the passing years fewer and fewer of their members each were willing to drive to their inner city location before dawn, and,  2) the neighbors whom they were trying to attract didn’t get up early.  So they did the Joshua-thing: they announced that their Easter Sunrise Service would be held at 9:30 AM.  Only an older congregation, unique in many ways, could pull that off.

To Dr. Weise’s three bullets I would offer as a footnote that those of us who are older-older are like the Timex watches in the past that could take a licking and keep on ticking.  Nothing makes that point clearer for me as an older pastor than liturgical vestments.  Robes have radically and constantly changed since I bought my first black de rigueur Geneva gown in 1949!  Who wears one today? ‘Time and tide wait for no man.”  True, but it is also true that, “Time and change don’t dawdle either.”

So here I am, face to face with Dr. Weise’s simple formula that touches me, my family and my church: “Age is change over time” – and as I age the times are certainly a-changin’.  Ain’t that the truth!

Blessings,

Charlie Just-Waking-Up van Winkel