Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Home Again

I'm back in Illinois after spending the Memorial Day weekend in the Big Apple. The Lutheran school I attended from kindergarten through eighth grade celebrated its 60th year and I was invited to preach at the church service capping off the weekend's events.

There was a dinner dance Saturday evening where I caught up with friends I haven't seen for many years. My fifth grade teacher, who had taught at the school for almost 28 years, was honored and time was given to her past students to recount humorous memories as well as to express words of thanks for her influence. The first person to speak took what immediately came to my mind about my former teacher. She had a lazy left eye that looked off to the side when her right eye was looking straight ahead. She capitalized on this abnormality by situating her desk such that her left eye could see what was going on in the hall while her right eye monitored the class. We were never sure when she had an eye on you so we didn't try to get away with too much. Sometime between then and now she had corrective surgery and at 68 is just as vibrant as I remember her being when I was a kid.

I'm an uncharacteristically light sleeper the night before I have to preach. Fortunately, I don't preach weekly. Last Saturday, at about 2 AM I was tossing and turning, in part due to an old clock on the dresser of the room in which I was sleeping. Each "tick" was a voluminous reminder of the passage of time and the sleep I wasn't getting. I finally got out of bed and relocated the antique timepiece to another room. That got me thinking about the variety of ways we try to eliminate reminders that we're aging.

One of the things I read before flying to New York was an article about plastic surgery by Christine Rosen called "The Democratization of Beauty." Rosen refers to a trend among thirty-somethings called "age dropping." It's a plan to store up beauty for later decades by having "an increasing number of carefully calibrated nips, tucks, and peels performed in their thirties so that they don't end up....without an adequate supply in their winter years." Rosen observes that "age dropping" and other trends "suggest....a diminishing tolerance for imperfection and aging."

Spending time with my mom (who is, thank God, in very good health) in the house I grew up in, sleeping in the bed that belonged to my late grandparents, seeing childhood friends with teenaged children, preaching in the church I used to attend chapel services at every Wednesday with other children in uniform, and celebrating my forty-first birthday made me quite aware of my journey toward the grave at a pace that seems to have picked up considerably. Yes, we can move ticking clocks and get various parts of our anatomies nipped and tucked, but we can't fully eliminate the reminders that we have grown and are continuing to grow older. As I reflected on all this I thought of another fitting text for the occasion - Psalm 90: 12: "So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom."

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