VIEW VIDEO I was recently over in the old meetinghouse, snooping around the meetingroom, imagining what it was like to have been there in 1892, 130 years ago, when it was built.  Just as an aside, our old meetinghouse had a good run. According to architects, the average life span of a conventionally built building is 120 years, which is exactly how many years we worshipped there. In my recent visit there, I had an imaginary conversation with the Quakers who first inhabited that space, trying to explain Zoom meeting for worship, and how we post our meeting for worship on YouTube and email the message to thousands of people every week. It boggles the mind to think of the vast chasm between then and now.

These developments have made me more aware of Fairfield’s extended family, and this week I heard from two of our scattered family members, Phillip and Lisa Wise of Joplin, Missouri, who wrote to tell me that in my first sermon in the Geezer Manifesto series, I had said that the word “geezer” was a male characteristic, and that linguists believe the female equivalent is “hag,” which I was uncomfortable using, as were others, including Phillip and Lisa, who said they didn’t care for the term “hag,” so suggested the word “sheezer” as a viable alternative. I like that. Geezers and Sheezers. Of course, we’re beginning to realize that gender isn’t this or that, that gender is more fluid than once thought, and new words might be forthcoming. One never knows.

So I’ve been on the lookout for geezers and sheezers, keeping my eyes open for their virtues. I was reading the birth story of Jesus this week, it being the season of Christmas. The birth story of Jesus parallels the birth story of John the Baptist, whose father was a geezer named Zechariah. He was a pastor geezer, the wiliest sort of geezer. A priest, advanced in years, who despite his age still took his turn serving in the temple. One day, the angel Gabriel appeared to him in the temple and said, “Zechariah, you and Elizabeth are going to have a son,” and Zechariah laughed and said, “You are nuts,” which is not a wise thing to say to an angel of the Lord, and Gabriel said, “Listen here, you old geezer, you will not speak another word until your son is born.” Maybe not those exact words, but you get the point. When Zechariah exited the temple, people asked him what had happened, he opened his mouth to tell them, but found he could not speak a word. It was later reported by those in attendance that his wife Elizabeth seemed inordinately pleased.

Elizabeth, being a good sheezer, didn’t think it her duty to comment on everything like her husband, so when she learned she was expecting, she rejoiced quietly in her heart and began building a crib. The moral of the story: you don’t have to say everything you’re thinking. Just because a thought has formed in your brain doesn’t mean you are under any obligation to share it with others, and so we continue with our geezer and sheezer manifesto, the things we want to do before we croak, and we’ll add to the list, in our geezer years, we want to learn when to speak and when to keep silent.

Age is not our friend in this endeavor. We know that as people age, there are changes in the brain that affect inhibitory control and social cognition. We lose our inhibitions and awareness. In everyday parlance, we lose our filters. And there are very real physiological reasons for this. Shrinkage in the frontal lobes reduces our inhibitions. Studies also indicate that as we age, we become less self-conscious, reporting fewer experiences of emotions such as shame, guilt, and embarrassment. So Zechariah blurted out exactly what he was thinking, and felt no shame, guilt, or embarrassment. Textbook geezer behavior.

If we lose our inhibitions through no fault of our own, if we lose inhibitory control and social cognition as we age, and evidence tells us this is a real thing, and that we’re less likely to experience shame, guilt, and embarrassment, what can we do about it? Well, here we have nature to thank, because it also seems that as we lose one gift, we acquire another. I have a buddy whose dog had painful glaucoma. The dog was otherwise healthy, and my friend couldn’t bear to put it down, so he had the dog’s eyes removed by a veterinarian. The dog is now blind, but you would never know it, because when his dog lost his sense of sight, his other senses—taste, smell, hearing, and touch—expanded to fill the void created by its loss of sight. The dog runs and plays like every other dog.

So we lose our inhibitory control, but we gain another gift to take its place, and this is the gift of introspection. Our ability to reflect increases as we age. Our capacity for self-examination increases. If we ask my 8-year-old granddaughter to be reflective, she’ll do that for about three seconds. At Joan’s school, misbehaving students must fill out a “think” sheet. They must write down what they did, why it was wrong, who they hurt, and what they will do about it. We must do that with children because reflection doesn’t come naturally to them. But if we ask 74-year-old Larry Cordray to reflect, he can do that for hours at a time. I’ve seen him reflect all the way through meeting for worship. He sits there with his eyes closed, reflecting. We might not be good in the moment, we might lose our sense of when to speak and when to be silent, but evidence suggests that our ability to reflect after the fact is enhanced. So one gift is diminished, but another rises to take its place.

What does this have to do with being a good geezer? We might find ourselves needing to apologize to those we’ve hurt because of our loss of inhibition, for speaking when it would have been better to be silent. I know a man who in a heated moment said some hard and cruel things to his son. The filter was gone, and he just blurted out all his disappointments with his son, just backed up the truck and dumped the whole load on his son. Total loss of inhibitory control. It was a sad and terrible thing. He went home, went to bed, woke up the next morning, and thought to himself, “Maybe I handled that poorly.”

But he was prideful and thought that after all he had done for his son, his son should forgive him without him having to ask forgiveness, so never apologized. Though the father and son continued to see one another, and would even talk on occasion, the fault line remained and then the father died.

As we age, the chances are good our filters will diminish. Joan says it is already happening with me. I speak when I should have been silent, and I am silent when I should have spoken. There are many things to learn from the Christmas story. Every character has something to teach us, even Zechariah, from whom we learn that there is a time to speak and a time to remain silent. A fine lesson for geezers and sheezers and everyone in between.