I have people tell me that getting old beats the alternative. Really? How do they know? They haven’t experienced the alternative. For those having trouble keeping up; the alternative is death. If what I believe is true then the alternative beats the hell out of getting old. As a friend says, “It is better being seen than being viewed.” He may be wrong. In fact, I’m counting on it.
Life would surely be easier/simpler if we didn't have to learn so many things by experience. Most of our "book learning" is second hand; not by personal experience. I have more than my share of formal education. I have just enough groupings of letters behind my name to not be impressed with degrees and education. In my experience, the most important things seem to be learned at the "School of Hard Knocks". I don't think it happens that way because we are hard headed or unwilling to take someone else's word for it. There just seems to be no other way to learn certain things – lessons of life.
Maybe it is because I am getting some age on me, but I would prefer learning a few more things second hand. Bumps and bruises, whether physical or emotional, seem to hurt more and take longer to heal. Supposedly, with age comes wisdom. I am not sure that is true in my case.
There are several things that can’t be learned in theory only. Like relationships. We not only learn only from experience but we, sadly, rarely learn even from experience. We seem doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again. It is like they are programmed deep within our psyches and, like a computer virus, are virtually impossible to ferret out. I can’t count the times I have watched a couple divorce and then turn around and marry one just like the first one.
Could it be that some people never see a healthy relationship close up, so they wouldn't know healthy if it bit them on the butt? There are mighty few good relationships around to observe. Most people seem to be just hanging on, or trying to patch what they have or are bouncing around from one bad one to the next. Some of the ones that look good on the surface don't stand up to close scrutiny. I find the same things to be true of churches. So few of us have experienced a healthy church that we wouldn’t know one if we saw it.
People try to explain things to us but nothing much seems to sink in. Like this thing of growing old. Books are written about it. Our elders willingly spend untold hours telling the younger generation, in minute detail, everything (and more than) we ever wanted to know about getting old. I listened. I even watched their lips move. The words entered my head, bounced around awhile and, finding nowhere to lodge, drifted out the other ear to that great word graveyard in the sky. All the talk was interesting but meaningless.
That is until I found myself staring at the backside of 40. Now, 40 is not old in the world of today. We have some professional athletes performing well that are past 40. But 40 sure isn't 20. At 40 I could still do the same things I did at age 20, it just took longer to do and longer to recover from and I usually required some assistance. And I couldn't do it quite as long as I used to. Now that I have reached 70, all bets are off.
I am not lamenting the passing of my youth. Youth wasn't all that it is cracked up to be, anyway. I hear people say they want to be young again and I think they have forgotten what hell high school, dating, seeking popularity, keeping a low profile to avoid conflict and adolescence in general were. Would I go back? Only if I knew then all I know now.
Now that I’m old my main regret is I wish I had made better preparation for aging. As a T-shirt I gave my mother several years ago said, "If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself". I also would have taken the time and trouble to learn from my mistakes. I would have learned an instrument and been in the band. I would have been on the golf team instead of playing football. Instead of practicing smoking in the men's room while in high school, I would have spent more time in the library. It's hard being the life of the party playing old favorite songs on the football. And it is difficult to get up a football game with the over 40 gang. (Don't play with the younger group; they will hurt you if you don't hurt yourself first.) Golf games come easier and are more survivable.
Do I have any regrets? Of course, I do. Do I look stupid or something? (Don't answer that question. See, I do learn from my mistakes.) Would I do some things differently if I had them to do over again? Absolutely. But the sad thing is, I might not make the same mistakes again, but I would probably make a whole new set of mistakes.
I've made some mistakes and have some regrets, but I must be doing some things right. You see, I am getting old. I am not dead yet. There is no telling how many more years I may be tripping and slipping and bouncing and bashing around in this old world. Hopefully before it is all over I will have learned from my experiences and quit making the same old mistakes. By then I may have broken in a whole new set of them.
Copyright © 2017, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved
Bill McConnell is the Interim Minister at Norwood Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.