The bands marched and played old songs. The beautiful girls kept cadence, twirling batons. The city fathers and mothers rode in expensive cars draped in crepe paper. Children followed colorful floats, hollering, “Throw me something!” Horns blew, babies cried, and clowns worked the crowd. The governor, mayor and a few Hollywood stars brought up the rear, in grand fashion. And there I was, on top of a Porche convertible, grinning like a “chessie” cat. What was the occasion? My 90th birthday. (Did all of this really happen? Well…as the old saying goes, “In your dreams.”)
But let me tell you what did happen. My family met with Marilyn’s family in Jackson, Mississippi on Sunday, December 27th, with 56 people in attendance to celebrate the “Double 45”, and to also celebrate my sister-in-law’s birthday—Mary Ann Catlett—who turned 80 on the same day. (Oh to be 80 again!) It was a grand occasion; I couldn’t ask for anything better. I entered my 10th decade without a whimper. So, this month, I have decided to share a few thoughts, not following any particular theme.
I think I’ve had some “bucolic” days lately. I daydream about the ideal pastoral life. Sometimes, I yearn for a simpler, rural life, without any of the modern technologies (except maybe running water, and electricity, and a television, and definitely my iPhone). Trying to live in the past could be a mental escape. I know a young man who has lived in a dysfunctional family for a long time. He is addicted to video games; anything to remove him from the conflicts that surround him. Living in a fictional world is a common thing.
I have a first cousin who became a hermit at an early age. I discovered him when I was quail hunting in Newton County, Mississippi. Living alone with a cat, two dogs, a horse and wagon, he grows most of his food, has no electricity, no plumbing, and seems happy. Would I change place with him? Not in a heartbeat. Life without a few challenges wouldn’t be worth a flip. (Maybe I would trade with him for about a month.)
Somehow, I’ve had the mistaken idea that when you reach 90, your problems would all be minor ones, or none at all. We have no guarantees on any period of life. I’ve come to the conclusion that we will have challenges from the cradle to the grave. That’s not a bad thing. I have a friend who says, “There are no problems, there are only indecisions.” I guess this is what keeps us going. My mama used to say, “There’s always something.” That’s better than “always nothing”. Acts 14:22 reads, “We must, through much tribulation, enter into the Kingdom of God.”
What do I love more than anything? Family. If you have a loving, supportive family, you have everything. Without their love and support, you have nothing. Some say they love God first, then family. To me, you love God by loving family. You can’t love God in a vacuum. Loving God always implies loving others. “How can you love God whom you have not seen unless you love your brother whom you have seen?” (I John 4:20).
The strangest thing happened to one of my satsuma trees this year. The tree is about five years old, and has produced satsumas for the last three. I also planted a lemon tree about six feet from it. This year, the satsuma tree cross-pollinated with the lemon tree and I have “le-sumas”. They are a little sour, hard to peel, and not as sweet as the satsumas. I hope the two trees will leave each other alone next year. I would like to know if this is a common thing.
Dr. Fred Craddock, one of my heroes of the Christian faith, tells about his father who wouldn’t darken the doors of the church. My friend recalled that his mother took him to Sunday school and church, and when they came in late, his father would complain because dinner was late. He said, “The church doesn’t care about me, all the church wants is another name, another pledge, another name, another pledge… Isn’t that the name of it? Another name, another pledge? They don’t care about me.” That’s what he always said. I guess I heard it a thousand times. One time, he didn’t’ say it.
In the Veteran’s hospital, he was down to about seventy-three pounds. They’d taken out his throat and said, “It’s too late”. They put in a metal tube, and X-rays burned him to pieces. I flew in to see him. He couldn’t speak; he couldn’t eat. I looked around the room, and there were potted plants, cut flowers, stacks of cards twenty inches deep beside his bed, mementos everywhere. All of them—flowers, cards, everything—were from persons or groups from the church.
He saw me read a card. He couldn’t speak, so he took a Kleenex box and wrote on the side of it a line from Shakespeare. If he had not written this line, I would not tell this story. He wrote: “In this harsh world, draw your last breath in pain to tell my story.” I asked, “What’s your story, Daddy?” He wrote: “I was wrong.”
My New Year’s Resolution is to strive to honor my motto: “Never stumble on anything behind you.” Jesus put it a little stronger: “No one who puts his head to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
May God bless you with a happy, healthy 2016!