So how old is too old? Sunday I was looking for something on the Internet and came across an article that caught my attention. Actually, it really wasn’t the article that garnered my gaze and captivated my thoughts. It was the picture above the article that caught my attention. It was a profile picture of Evangelist Billy Graham standing behind a pulpit.
I momentarily thought about the range of influence and the life changing impact his ministry represents for people throughout the world. He is an icon for proclaiming the good news of the Gospel and making multitudes aware of God’s love and grace.
The simple sight of the recent photograph left me with a sense of awe, respect and admiration for a man whose life is synonymous with devotion to God. The picture captured the dignity of a well-lived life. Perhaps Rev. Graham talks more about the home to come than he talks about the challenges of the day, but what a presence and purpose his life continues to represent.
I don’t remember the caption or title above the picture, but I do remember the first paragraph below the picture. I read and re-read it again and again. I was confused by the content, but the lyrics steadily held my attention. In fact, I thought about the words long after I closed the page. The words continue to be on the periphery of my thought processes. Were that not true, I wouldn’t be chronicling these thoughts.
So what are the words? The words were the lyrics to a song entitled “Old And In The Way” by a bluegrass music group in the 1970s with the same name. I found the words of the song daunting.
Old and in the way
That’s what I heard him say
They used to heed the words he said
But that was yesterday
Coal will turn to gray
And youth will fade away
They’ll never care about you
Cause you’re old and in the way
“As I hear tell he was happy
He had his share of friends and were kind
Now those friends have all passed on
He don’t have a place called home
Looking back to a better day
When you’re old and in the way
“When just a boy he left his home
Thought he’d have the world on a string
Now the years have come and gone
Through the streets he walks alone
Like the old dog gone astray
He’s just old and in the way”
“They’ll never care about you
Cause you’re old in the way”
I can’t quite wrap my head around the concept of being “old and in the way”. All four of my grandparents lived over nine decades. Their lives encompassed almost a century of change, but they adapted and embraced the now as it unfolded into the next chapter of their lives. Without fail, none ever fell into the category of “old and in the way”. Their influence continues to be a stronghold in my life.
In 2004 my parents moved to a new home about two miles from where we live. For the next three years we had the privilege of having almost daily contact. Mother lived three years beyond dad’s death, but because of her lack of cognition we were separated from her about the same time we dealt with the empty chair associated to dad’s loss.
About once a week, I still drive by the house that once was their home. The house serves as a trigger to remind me of how blessed I was to share that time in their lives. “Old and in the way” doesn’t resonate with anything I’ve ever known.
I would be less than honest if I didn’t tell you the words to the song momentarily created anxiety for me. I silently asked myself, “What would I do if I was perceived to be old and in the way?” Simply asking myself that question was momentarily a cause for panic. My first thought in response to the self-imposed question was totally irrational. I know you’re thinking: “What’s new?” I was teary-eyed with the thought, but I could always get in the Mazda Miata convertible (that I have yet to purchase) and travel to who knows where. Of course, I’d be an easy target for a Silver Alert. How many old men do you suppose can be found crossing the countryside with the top down and their hair blowing in the wind? On the other hand, if I was running away from home because I perceived that others thought I was old and in the way, I’d say the chances of a Silver Alert are slim to none. The folks I left behind would probably be singing: “Thank God and Greyhound He’s Gone.” Honestly, I would rather not be here than ever be a burden to those whom I hold dear.
Yet, I don’t anticipate that will ever be the case. For one thing, my life has always been enriched by the presence of people who love and care for me. That kind of environment prompts a desire within me to love others with that same level of intensity. Truthfully, if you want friends, you have to be a friend.
Consequently, as an antidote to becoming old and in the way, I’m going to step-up my thoughtfulness, compassion, love and encouragement to others. For one thing, it will enrich both our lives. For another, it falls into the category of being “salt” and “light” in a world that hungers for both. The way I see it, if I’m still here, I’m not done and neither are you.
If we need a role model, Rev. Billy Graham would make a good one. Whenever we take on the approach of Christ and see others through the lense of compassion and Christian kindness, it makes a difference for both the recipient and the giver.
All My Best!