I have always loved Simon and Garfunkel’s song, written when they were in their twenties (as was I at the time – just a few years younger):
Can you imagine us
Years from today
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange
To be seventy…
How did they know when they were so young? I suppose at two decades of age, the thought of seven decades does seem impossible to comprehend. They were right, though. It IS terribly strange.
My dear father and beloved grandfather and an uncle (and my great grandfather, but I didn’t know him) died in their early 60s. Most of the family assumed that that was our genetic makeup and that all Schafer men would pass early. But I have a brother who is 65 and a cousin who is my age (minus 6 months) and all three of us are doing well. I’m glad we didn’t listen to those predictions and took care of ourselves just in case we lived longer.
I am a eulogy writer (TheEulogyWriters.com – pass it on. Someone you know will need our services…eventually) and have observed over and over again the brevity of life. People can die at any age, but most I’ve eulogized are younger than 80. The seventies seem to be at the top of the bell curve. Even the Bible suggests that the human body is designed to give out sometime between 70 and 80 (Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures...they quickly pass, and we fly away. Psalm 90:10). So true - they quickly pass…
So today I’m more introspective than usual (I have a tendency toward that). I am thinking about my life and the years I have left.
I decided long ago that I would not get old. I cannot help getting older with the passing of time, but there is a marked difference between our chronological age and our internal age. I’ve made the conscious decision to be young at heart until the day I die (or at least as ‘young at heart’ as my personality allows me to be). Last week, while I was playing racquetball, I felt like a thirty year old. I was active and playing (not terribly well) and enjoying life and enjoying the interaction with friends. THAT is what I want to maintain always – youth inside, even as the body invariably ages and deteriorates and ultimately fails.
I understand that that may be easier for me than for many people. I’ve lived (actually WE’VE lived) what a friend of Sue’s once called a ‘charmed’ life. Being a minister for over 40 years, I prefer to think of it as a ‘blessed’ life. Nevertheless, it’s true.
I began life in a family which loved me. I never doubted that and, because of that knowledge, I never really rebelled like so many of my peers. I never wanted to disappoint my parents. I’m sure I probably did at numerous points along the way, but they never told me about it. To this day I think I am the person I am because of STILL not wanting to disappoint them (my dear father died thirty years ago and I still want to honor him by being the best man I can be).
My parents were deeply devout Christians. That ‘rubbed off’ so even my faith is an inheritance from them. Thank you mom and dad.
I’ve never been sick a day in my life. Health has been my friend. I DID have hepatitis when in the sixth grade, but what a great disease to have as a kid. You’re tired most of the time so you get to sleep all you want. You have to stay home from school for six weeks taking it easy – watching TV and being waited on… I guess it still qualifies as ‘sick,’ but really…
And I’ve had the typical broken bones and colds and once a gall bladder attack and surgery – hospitalized over night – but nothing that permanently slowed me down or had lasting effects. As I look around, I see people who have suffered immeasurably most of their lives. My suffering has been so minimal that it doesn’t even register on the scale.
I’ve always had good jobs – doing things I’ve loved. I was enamored by the Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship campus staff people when I was in college. I thought they were the best people I’d ever met – smart and spiritual and ‘cool’ in a Christian sort of way. I never dreamed I’d one day be one. But I was (not nearly as smart and spiritual and cool as all the others, I’m afraid). I loved it.
I went to seminary and became a pastor. Wisconsin was frustrating but I learned an enormous amount in those three years. The most important thing I learned was how to love people in spite of all their oddities and to appreciate their flaws. Every one of them being a child of God and, in some way or another, in God’s image – just like me.
Mt. Hope was a dream job. I pastored there for 35 years among some of the best people on earth. I loved them all and felt loved in return – from the first day to the last. I enjoyed all but about a dozen or so minutes in all that time. They say that if you love your job you never work a day in your life. Rachel once told me that I’ve never had a ‘real’ job. I think that’s what she meant. I’ve loved my work so have never actually worked. I feel guilty about that, but I’ll take it. I’ve been blessed.
Then there is my family. NO ONE could have a better one. Sue has made me the man I am in just about every conceivable way. She took a naïve farm boy from rural Ohio and crafted me into a man who relates well with people, who has been creative in ministry, who has had the ambition to author books, to serve God, to be a good father, to travel to places where I’ve seen wondrous things. I would have survived without her, but I would have been such a boring person. She has been the spice of my life for over 45 years. I can’t imagine who I’d be without her. She is the love of my life – my inspiration – my muse – my critic – my counselor – my confessor – my best friend.
And my girls… Rachel is the smartest person I’ve ever known. Her down-to-earth approach to life – her calmness in every situation – her ability to NOT be like other parents or other wives or others of her peers, constantly astounds me… She has always been wise beyond her years. I adore her.
Abi is one of the brightest lights in my life. She has constantly stunned me with her ability to work with and handle people. Who can’t like Abi? She is happy and fun and so down to earth… She is a take-charge person who sets goals and isn’t afraid to take the bull by the horns when necessary and get things done. She called us a week after having returned home after Christmas saying she misses us. That touched our hearts. We always miss her and Rachel immensely when they leave us.
Both girls have astounded me with their handy-man abilities. They take on projects so far outside their comfort zones that most of us wouldn’t even attempt them. We’d call in a ‘guy.’ Both are self-confident and self-aware. Both are kind and good. Both are women of faith. Both have tons of friends. Both will do well in the world. I couldn’t be prouder… And they’ve both married men who are good and honest and smart and ambitious… and who listen to their wives good counsel.
We only have one grandchild in my 70th year. Asher is… how can I say it without sounding so much like a doting grandfather? Asher is such a loving, smart, kind, boy. He is passionate about just about everything in life. He brings me more joy than I knew a person could have. As quickly as my years have gone by, so he is growing up far faster than I’d like. In him we all know true love – going both directions.
And friends – We’ve had so many over the years. Some who have just passed through our lives and who will forever hold a place in our hearts – who we may never see again until we reunite in heaven – and some who have been friends for years or even decades. What a family we have all created, loving one another and sticking with one another through thick and thin. I have been blessed with people – individuals and groups whom I dearly love.
I’ve been blessed with health and family and friends and work, but I’ve also been blessed to travel and see so much of this amazing world we live in. I’ve been to twenty countries in the world (not bad out of some 195 – 10%). I’ve been to the holy land three times (go – there is no place like it). I’m hoping to get to a few more before I exit. I’ve been to most of the states; lived in five! (10%)
Looking back on life it has a surreal quality to it. I’ve done so much, known so many people, gone so many places, done so many things… but did I? I have the memories (many faded with age, like old photos) but it has all gone by so quickly and, again to quote Simon and Garfunkel, "Michigan seems like a dream to me now.”
The future is almost just as dreamlike. I don’t know what or where or how the future will fall out. We don’t know where we’ll be in five years (or one). We don’t know how much health is left. We don’t know how much stamina remains. We don’t know, really, much about the future at all… Except that it is in God’s hands. And, perhaps, that’s how it always is and always should be.
I have hopes and dreams – that’s part of the “not getting old” thing. I hope to travel and play and learn and enjoy and meet new people. I hope to continue building relationships with friends I’ve loved for years. I plan to see as much of my grandson growing up as I possibly can. I plan to live every day I’ve got left as best I can and to simply be happy and content and at peace with myself and the world.
God’s blessings have been so prominent in my life that, should I die tomorrow, I would honestly be able to say that I’ve had a good life (well, if I died tomorrow I wouldn’t be able say anything, I suppose – but you know what I mean) – a great life – a life far better and more blessed than I could possibly deserve. But I’ll take it, of course. And I’ll thank God every day for… every day.