In a city with a median age of 32, it’s easy to feel ancient at the ripe old age of 50. The moment we moved to Austin, I immediately became older, more conservative, and not as green. The strange thing is, nothing about me really changed – the earth beneath my feet simply shifted. And I have to admit, there are moments when I look in the mirror and say “Wasted.”
I reflect back on the days, when as a kid, we would drive in the big shiny, never-more-than-two-years-old-because-dad-loved-new-cars Cadillac from Oklahoma City to Jonesboro, Texas, to see my grandparents. They lived on a farm in a dot of a town that, according to my grandfather, was a booming place with stores and a post office and even a brothel until Indian raids put an end to the growth in the 1800s. I tried to imagine the old abandoned buildings as they might have been back then, all painted and filled with people and life. When I asked my mom what a “brothel” was, she said it was a place where “ladies of the evening” lived and went on special dates with men. So, I was particularly interested in that building – and tried to picture myself all dressed up for a party and having tea with a man doused in Old Spice. It made me a bit sad that the ladies had to stay in that house, and couldn’t go to a movie or get a hot fudge sundae instead.
Jonesboro was one long, grasshopper-filled, grain-silo smelling summer day for me. I’d take long walks down the dusty limestone roads past fields and mesquite trees to the combination gas station/grocery store (the only one in town) that I called “Mr Mayhews” because Mayhew Glover was the owner and only person who ever worked there. He would let me purchase candy on credit and get Big Red sodas out of the cooler all by myself. And he didn’t mind if I sat and talked to the old men who would sit in front of the store, dressed in overalls or those cotton jumpsuits that looked more like adult onesies.
Those men would sit for hours and reminisce about the good old days, when life was simpler and people were kinder and things didn’t move so quickly. I loved to hear their stories because I could close my eyes and see them in my mind like scenes from a television show. And I would always grow a little sad when I would ask about their “now” lives, because the answers were always the same. “Well, I’m not good for much these days – too old, too feeble, too…” I knew I didn’t want my life to end in the past, because sitting on a bench in front of a gas station/grocery store in a tiny Texas town didn’t look like a place I wanted to end up.
Maybe it was there, in that lazy town that seemed to die long before its time, that I became hell-bent on the idea of being fully alive. It was at the Jonesboro feed store/post office I announced I was going to be an archeologist and adopt older kids who needed love. It was on the sunporch at my grandparent’s house that I split my chin open attempting to fly, or perhaps it was float, off a feather bed. It was even standing in the orchards in the back of the farmhouse that I learned to love the smells and colors and tastes of fresh veggies and fruit, and would conjure up ways to share them with others.
So it seems strange to think I now identify with those old men. I certainly don’t look back on life and think things were better at some other point in history. To be sure, I love how beautiful and messed up things are in the present. Nothing is perfect now. Nothing has ever been perfect. But things are richer now – the colors are brighter and the fragrances are deeper and the stories are more complete. My identification comes when I look in the mirror and say the dreaded words, “If only I was (you fill in the blank here – I use things like “younger,” or “smarter,” or “more talented,” or “more disciplined”), I could have made something more of my life.” Wow. I’m 50. And I feel like I’ve got on that adult onesie already.
I’m glad Noah didn’t look in the mirror and say “Dude, maybe 600 is a bit too old to be jumping on a homemade boat with your family and a bunch of animals. Maybe you should just give it up and let someone younger take over.” I need to be reminded the Lord’s plans aren’t governed by calendars or position. My purpose today is as meaningful as it was when I was a kid on those limestone roads. My impact today, as the earth shifts below my feet, is as great as it was when it felt like nothing moved at all. When I look in the mirror, I should say “Waste not.”