VIEW VIDEO It is good to be back with our friends at Fairfield. We were in North Carolina last week for Thanksgiving, at my brother Glenn’s home. Thirty-five Gulleys in one house, studiously avoiding any mention of politics. Then on Saturday, we attended my nephew Christopher’s wedding just north of Charlotte in Lincolnton, North Carolina. A long drive with lots of holiday traffic. Eleven hours each way, dodging semi-trucks and storms, passing one billboard after another warning us to let Jesus into our lives, or else.
On Thanksgiving weekend, one is especially sensitive to signs of God’s blessings, and I experienced just such a blessing on our trip home when we stopped at a rest park in Tennessee. Walking past the vending machines, I stopped to see if they had my favorite candy bar, Payday, the best candy bar in the universe, and there in one of the vending machines was a lone Payday, waiting to drop, after the insertion of five quarters, which I didn’t have. It was then I noticed someone else, most likely an angel from heaven, had deposited five quarters into the vending machine, but hadn’t made a selection. So I poked the correct numbers and the Payday candy bar tumbled down into my waiting hand, a sign of God’s blessings if ever there were one.
When I was little, I was told by my brother Glenn that this was how children were born, that God had a vending machine up in the sky and would put in a quarter, poke the correct selection, and out would fall a baby, the next one in line, a blessing from God. Biology has never been my strong suit, so I believed this for many years, up until Joan and I had our own children. Two little boys, who I wanted to name Snickers and Payday, but Joan wouldn’t let me.
This is a common theme in our marriage, Joan not letting me do what I want. I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to go to North Carolina. I wanted to spend four days at home, just the two of us, going for walks and reading books and sitting by the woodstove, but then Joan read an article about being present for other people, the author referred to it as “showing up,” and she said, “We’re going to North Carolina. We’re going to show up!” So off we went to North Carolina, and I’m glad we did.
I’ve been talking about my geezer manifesto, the things I want to do before I croak, and today I want to add to that list, showing up. Being present. As we age, let’s not retreat from life. Let’s not isolate ourselves away from our families, away from our friends, away from our world. Let’s show up. Let’s be present. Let’s engage life, not shrink from it. Even when, perhaps especially when, it is difficult to do so.
The first miracle of Jesus at the wedding feast of Cana was about Jesus blessing the water, turning it into wine. But the blessing happened before that. The blessing began when Jesus decided to show up for a wedding, something most men are loathe to do. I can find all sorts of excuses not to attend a wedding, and often have, but Jesus showed up. What do you bet that if Jesus had lived long enough, he would have been a great geezer? He would have been the 80-year-old grandpa dancing with his wife at their granddaughter’s wedding. You should have seen Joan dancing at the wedding last Saturday. She is so often present in a way I am not.
Last month, I was talking with a family member who’s in the geezer stage of life and asked him if he was going to the big family wedding. Nope, he said. Since I never mind my own business, I asked why not. He said, “Because he (the groom) never calls me to see how I’m doing.” I pointed out that the groom had five children, worked full time, and might have other things on his mind. I didn’t push the issue, but it honked me off. It made me think of my Grandma Norma. That woman was everywhere. Kindergarten graduations, 8th grade graduations, high school commencements, birthdays, weddings, funerals, school plays, Little League games, Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving. Rode the Greyhound bus from Vincennes to points north countless times, always with a cake on her lap. When I was a recorded as a Quaker minister, she was there. Her first time in a Protestant church. She was terrified. But she was there, present and accounted for.
Many of us are the matriarchs and patriarchs of our family, and if we’re not now, we will be some day. Our role in life is to be present, to be engaged, not indifferent. Unfortunately, our language supports the false and dangerous belief that we can disengage from life after a certain age. What do we do when we turn 65? We retire. Isn’t that an interesting word? Retire. To cease work and involvement. To withdraw. Just when we need to show up and be present.
I’ve been researching things people did in their geezer years. Colonel Sanders started Kentucky Fried Chicken with his first social security check. Now I know fried chicken might not be important to you, but to me Colonel Sanders belongs in the pantheon of the gods. Teiichi Igarashi climbed Mt. Fuji, Japan’s tallest mountain, at the age of 100. Grandma Moses painted her first picture when she was 76. Peter Roget published his first thesaurus when he was 73, which, as a writer, I find incredible, amazing, extraordinary, and perhaps even mind-boggling.
Behind all these achievements is the conviction that age doesn’t exempt us from accomplishment. There are people to love, work to be done, books to write, pictures to paint, and causes to embrace. Be present. Show up.