Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"It's Just a Number"

I had my yearly physical recently, the annual indignity indicative of the irresistible advance of aging. I had my first physical at age 40 (Am I making my point?). My physician, sensing my angst at having hit my 57th birthday (Ever notice that nobody “hits” their 20th birthday?), tried to be supportive: “Well Wayne, it’s just a number. All in all, you’re in pretty good shape…for a man your age.” I know she was trying to be encouraging, but what I heard was: “Geez, I can’t believe you’re still here!”

I was feeling pretty sorry for myself when I called my friend. He’s an octogenarian who is traveling with me to Israel and Egypt this May and had some concerns about whether or not he could manage the physical demands of the trip. Actually, to quote my physician, “He’s in pretty good shape, for a man his age.” I called to reassure him that I had taken people his age before and that I was confident that he would have no difficulty physically making the trip.

But what amazed me about the conversation was the quality of the mind I encountered on the other end of the line. My friend is engaging, articulate, interesting, and substantive. He reads voraciously, and I don’t mean light, fluffy reading either. He devours C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton, the Christian classics, and of course, the Scriptures. He thinks big thoughts; he asks big questions; he’s a serious person. He’s not morose, and he’s certainly not boring. He has a wonderful smile, a quick wit, and a delightful sense of humor. What I mean by “serious person” is that he sees life as both a wondrous gift and a sacred responsibility. There’s nothing shallow or superficial about him.

He’s always wanted to make the pilgrimage to Israel and is reading my book, Where Jesus Walked, in preparation for the trip. He said: “There are so many places the New Testament talks about that I have to see for myself. I’ve got all these questions. Is it okay if I ask questions?” I know people in their 30’s and 40’s who’ve never asked a big question in their lives…not one! And there’s my friend, in his 80’s, with a quiver full of questions…still asking, still seeking, still knocking, still consumed with a “got to know!” He makes me feel alive just talking to him.

Everybody ages; it’s relentless and inevitable. Humans too are governed by the second law of thermodynamics – entropy. We run down; we wear out. But while aging can be tracked “by the numbers,” getting “old” is not so easily measured. Maybe my physician was right. Maybe it is just a number.

“So what are you reading these days?” I asked him. “Thomas รก Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ,” he said. Figures.

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