Monday, October 1, 2012

Fears Not Years

“It's paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn't appeal to anyone.”  - Andy Rooney
My mother says it often.  Aging is not for sissies.  She is 81 - still lives a lovely life in her own beautifully decorated home, still remembers the name and birthday of everyone in the whole wide world...including her favorite cashier at the grocery store, and still makes the most coveted pan of brownies in the entire state of Texas.  I keep telling her she has set the bar fairly high for growing old with style.  She keeps reminding me that all I need to know is that aging is not for the faint of heart. 
In our beauty-obsessed culture, most of us hear complaints about growing old in the context of a fading brilliance in front of the mirror:  Oh, the graying hairs, the wrinkling brows, the sagging chins, the blocky mid-sections.  If we think much beyond that point in our 50s and 60s, it is probably to fear for our ability to remember people and places and important words, because we believe it is already happening to us. 
But I have seen the true late afternoon of life this weekend, in the home of our beautiful friends Bruce and Anna Marie, and I am here to report there is something important to be said about going into the last of life's day with no fear. 
Bruce is 97, Anna Marie is 95.  When we met this beautiful pair in 1983 they were 68 and 66, the oldest but most vibrant members of the circle of friends who became like family to a couple of brand new parents wandering the near soullessness that is/was suburban Dallas.  Our oldest son latched onto them, and they to him...we really had no choice in the matter. Never doubt a 2-year old's assessment of a person's character...that's what we learned from that experience. 
Bruce & Anna Marie with our young son.  1986
These are two of the most magnificent humans who have ever walked the planet.  Their stories are inspiring to the point of celebration - which I am happy to say has recently happened in their Dallas faith community, and also with a story in The Dallas Voice.  (It would not waste your time to hear/read the tales of this lovely couple.)  But our visit with them yesterday, in the home they have lived in for 49 years, may be the most critical piece of their work in the Circle of Life for me. 
They have been fearlessly ageless for so long.  Never afraid to befriend someone outside their own generation, always eager to change if change was called for, open to new ideas (four years ago, Anna Marie insisted we buy her her first margarita!) and cultures, music and thoughts. But now the simple accumulation of calendar years seems to be eclipsing Bruce and Anna Marie's will to stay young.  They are mostly home bound, somewhat confused about who and what and where, and dependent upon others for nearly every human need. 
Even so - they seem completely fearless. 
Bruce, who just 18 months ago was still articulating with eloquence and great clarity his enormous disappointment with the way the Church has excluded homosexuals from full fellowship was - yesterday - almost completely mute during our visit.  He spoke a short prayer over our lunch, but that was it.  There was never any real recognition on his face while we were there - strangers is what we were.  But somehow he welcomed us with a conveyed grace that was unafraid, even as he sat in the company of strangers.
Anna Marie was ebullient and very present, but quick to admit that she didn't really remember much of anything anymore - not her years in Louisiana, not her trips to Japan, not even her broken hip two years ago.  "I know those things happened," she told me while we filled glasses with ice and set the table for lunch, "But I don't remember any of it." 
"What about Bruce?" I asked.  "Do you miss the old Bruce?" 
"Oh," she said, laughing. "He seems the same to me." 
Bruce & Anna Marie in their home.  2012
 As the Day of our Lives begins to fade to night, isn't it wonderful to picture it as a time of stillness and ease and appreciation for the moment that is.  It is as if Anna Marie and Bruce are sitting on the shore of an expansive lake watching the sunset.  The memory of the day's brilliant sun and busy activities seems unimportant in the gentleness and quiet wonder that is the magic of reflected colors on water, slight breezes, cooling temperatures. 
In such a moment, all you need is someone to turn to to say "Wow!" 
“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.”  - Robert Frost

We may as well, then, live by the words of my old boss, R. B. McAlister...television station owner, state representative, sage:
Fears, not years, make men (& women) old.


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