This week I turn 64. After I announced this to the ten o’clock congregation last Sunday, one of our choir members sang to me a Beatles song: “Will you still need me? Will you still feed me, when I’m 64?” When I was sixteen and listening to Paul McCartney sing that song, “64” seemed like a dream, like an age so far away in the future that it would never actually happen to me. I remember being very young, about 4 or 5, and celebrating my grandfather’s 64th birthday. I don’t remember the details of the party. I just remember that I thought at the time that he was ancient. I guess this means that I am now ancient, or at least in the eyes of my grandchildren I am. We’re having a birthday party next week to mark this august occasion and our granddaughter Barbara, age 3, will be there. I’ll make a special point of telling her I’m 64. Who knows? Maybe sixty years hence she’ll remember an ancient old man in his glory and be glad for the memory when her turn comes.
In any event, I have good news for you. Being ancient isn’t really so bad. In fact, I think that life is better now in many ways than it was then, when I was young and thought I’d live forever and never age. Yes my knees barely bend, I run to the toilet all night long and I avoid looking in the mirror in the morning because the old face I see there is not someone I know or want to admit I know. But when you get past all the aches and wrinkles, unwanted bulges and dents that go with becoming an antique, you realize that there is so much more to life than the young ever imagine. Like a great vintage wine that gets better with age, there is a pride in being older that is really very rewarding. Little things mean more to me now. And things that used to get to me don’t get to me as easily. My mother told me once that she liked being older because when she was young she was too easily intimidated by door-to-door salesmen and too shy to tell them, “No, I don’t want that stupid broom!” She said she enjoyed being older because she had confidence now to tell people where to go if she didn’t like what they were selling. My mother was sweet and kind. She never told anyone where to go; but deep down as she got older she knew she could if she had to. I’m like her. I still avoid conflict like the plague. Controversy scares me. Maybe by the time I’m 80, I’ll be better at speaking my mind. But I’m getting there, and the journey is the better part of it anyways. It’s fun to grow up slowly. What’s the hurry? When asked once what the secret to happiness is, the witty William F. Buckley Jr. replied, “That’s easy.” He said, “Don’t ever grow up.” Most people who knew WFB would have thought him to be insufferably adult and too mature for his own good. But inside, where we all really live, I think he was saying that he had found a way to always remain a reckless boy with an endless imagination who never stopped chasing his dreams. It’s the thrill of filling our dreams that keeps us going, even if like Don Quixote they take us nowhere. That was Cervantes’ point: it’s not whether you travel far and wide that counts but how you make the journey. On the one hand, by a certain measure, I haven’t accomplished much. But no one’s had a better journey. As a boy I loved being a patrol leader in my Boy Scout troop. I loved that. I loved being with the boys and doing all the things that scouts do. I have loved being the rector of this church even more. I love being with you and doing all the things that Christians do together. And that’s the key to feeling young: do what you love doing with people you love being with and keep doing it.
I started out talking about growing old but the more I think about it, that’s a subject about which I am unqualified to speak, since I haven’t grown up yet. And if God is good to me, I never will. So, when I count the candles on my cake this year, I will count each one of them a blessing; the greatest being that I have, in addition to a beautiful family that really cares for each other, all of you to thank for bringing so much love into my life. And that means everything to me because along the way, at every stage, it’s the love we’ve known and shared that really counts.
Fr. Jansen String