Friday, January 15, 2010

Methuselah's Mother

“What’s that thing on your neck, mom?” asked my teenage daughter.

I put on my glasses and looked in a mirror. There, nestled on the folds of my formerly swan-like neck, was a liver spot. No doubt about it, I was on the train to Wrinkle Town.

I fingered the crevasses at the corners of my eyes and wondered who came up with the term “crow’s feet”. Why not “dove’s feet”? Why feet at all? I preferred to think of them as “smile lines”—being the joyful soul that I am.

And why “liver spot”? What’s that brown splotch got to do with my liver? I detest liver. I don’t want it on my plate and certainly not on my neck. I’ve heard them referred to as “age spots”, which I suppose is more accurate, but hardly more appealing. Why not call them “sage spots”? Play up the older-means-wiser angle. Whether true or not, I need to believe there is something good about growing old.

Aging isn’t easy living in a youth-obsessed society where our cultural creed is “young= good, old=bad”. Senior citizens are called “geezers” or “blue-haired curmudgeons” and are generally kept out of sight, except for those “old coots” on TV extolling the virtues of motorized chairs. HD TV isn’t kind to the elderly.

Cataracts, hearing aids, nursing homes that smelled like cabbage and decay—this was my future. I wanted to wail and gnash my teeth. Instead I prayed. “Dear Lord, why?”

Miraculously, I remembered a verse from Isaiah 46:4 –“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you.” It’s reassuring to know that God will sustain me in Wrinkle Town and beyond; but do I have to go looking like Methuselah’s mother?

As I calculated the cost of getting lazered, lipoed and lifted, I suddenly remembered faces I’d seen, skin stretched so tight they resembled snare drums. And those old facelifts, with sagging cheeks that look like coats slipping off a hanger. Is that what I really wanted? A kind of youth that is temporary at most, superficial at best? Old guts are old guts. Underneath artificially smooth skin are thickening arteries, thinning bones and polyps.

Polyps…not a good thought. Stay calm. Don’t worry. Fretting will furrow your brow like a John Deere Tractor. Help me, Lord. I suddenly recalled what that “geezer” Moses wrote in Psalm 90—“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” I got it. My number of tomorrows is shrinking, so I better greet each morning with profound gratitude. What I needed was an attitude makeover. After all, the only real solution to aging is death. Shudder. But what about that “heart of wisdom”? Does older really mean wiser?

It can. Maybe God allows the infirmities of old age because it forces us to slow down, giving us more time to reflect on Him and His word. What we lose in physical power, we can gain in spiritual strength. Some of the strongest prayer warriors at church are elderly. They are also more joyful and fun than most of my contemporaries. They have skin like armadillos but a youthful spirit.

Perhaps that’s the secret of staying young—cultivating a child-like ability to delight in everything, to indulge in a little silliness and to laugh at life’s absurdities. A good belly laugh is better than collagen. Time might steal our senses; like hearing, sight and smell. But it won’t take our sense of humor unless we let it. When a pair of eyes sparkles in good humor and fun, no one notices the “smile lines” or “sage spots”.

“Thanks, Lord. You never let me down. I know I can face the shadowy future without fear now…although it helps to remove the glasses before looking in the mirror,” I said, squinting at my reflection.

My daughter patted me on the shoulder, and smirked. “You look pretty good for an eighty-year-old.”

Pointing at her face, I asked, “What’s that thing on your forehead?”

She looked in the mirror and shrieked, “Oh NO! A pimple. It’s friggin’ huge! This is a major calamity. What am I gonna do? I can’t go out like this. I’m a freak, a freak!” She ran down the hallway. “Will somebody just shoot me?!” she declared and slammed her bedroom door behind her.

Youth is definitely overrated.

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