Genesis 12:1-4 1Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.3I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
4So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
What does it mean to be “too old?” That is a question I have been pondering for the last several weeks. In early September I was supposed to travel to Switzerland to begin a four and half month period of study at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey. I was accepted to the program by both the Ecumenical Institute and the University of Geneva all that I needed to complete the paper work was a visa for a temporary student residency from the Canton of Vaud. Unfortunately the letter I did receive was that they were going to deny me a visa because I was over the age of 30 (I’m 65) and they normally didn’t give temporary student residency visa to those over 30. They said I was already in the work force and therefore didn’t need to expand my learning skills. Needless to say I was stunned at the letter and even though I appealed this decision they still denied me entry.
I do not feel “old.” In fact I have just completed my Master’s of Divinity Degree and am looking forward to whatever G-d has planned for me. I still don’t know what that is but I’m sure G-d does. So am I at 65 old? Well yes, I am older than those in their 30’s or 40’s or 50’s but does that mean I should go and sit in a rocking chair? I do have a very nice one and I love to sit in it and read but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life doing that. I think G-d has more planned for me and that is something I have often felt when a change is in the air. In fact I was adding up how many different careers I’ve had in the last 40 years and I think this is my 5th one. This Masters degree is my second one and the one I am the most fond of, the one I feel the most blessed to have achieved. I worked hard and earned this degree, it was never handed to me just because I was the oldest one in the room. So when do we stop learning, when do we become unable to be a gift to those around us, to all creation?
I don’t believe we ever stop learning or growing if we have the desire to do so. I don’t believe that G-d ever intended us to stop being partners in creation. The G-d I know doesn’t have a retirement plan and we never become redundant in the eyes of the Holy Spirit. In scripture it is rare for a young person to be the one called on by God. Abram, Sarah, Jacob, Moses, even Jesus were well into their adult years when they were called to be messengers and founders of our faith. Mohammed and the Buddha were also called late in life. It takes living to be able to understand the difficulties, joy, tears, and beauty of what it means to respond to a call of the Spirit. I’m not saying someone in their 20’s can’t do it, I’m simply saying in general the more life we experience the more compassion and patience we have and the more willing we are to offer mercy.
As a young adult I was very quick to make judgments and did not worrying about the consequences. As I’ve grown older I recognize what is really important in my life, allowing the smaller more insignificant things to simply take care of themselves. I have also learned that what I thought was important was not and that the important things are fewer but more precious.
I have since learned that age discrimination is not at all uncommon in Europe and that people who are of a “certain” age must retire and stop being productive citizens of the community. Age discrimination is also common in this country, but, we are changing simply because within the next 10 years there will be more people over the age of 65 than those who are younger. We in America are beginning to recognize the value of working long after what our parents and grandparents understood as retirement. I am at the beginning of the Baby-Boomer generation and those that come after me will rewrite the rules for what it means to grow old.
A growing life does not stop unless you turn away from it and let it die and I have seen that happen. I have seen educated productive individuals accept the image of age put on them, and let their advantage of wisdom wither on the vine. I however refuse to let that happen to me. I “will not go gently into that dark night” as Dylan Thomas so beautifully states it. God is not through with me yet. The Holy Spirit still has work for me and still speaks through me and my life. I will not let some small minded bureaucrat in some small office in Switzerland decide for me when I am no longer useful to my world.
So listen up people! Life is never done until you close your eyes for the last time and only G-d knows that date. Until then don’t listen to those who belittle you for being older. Stand up and be counted among the partners of G-d. Never stop learning; open a book, learn a new trade, start a new career. Our bodies may no longer let us do the physical work we once did but that doesn’t mean our minds have to diminish. Apply your hard earned years of wisdom to those who need it most. We, who have walked many rocky paths, have much compassion, justice and mercy to offer those who struggle in this world. Offer your wisdom and enthusiasm for life to them, they will be grateful. By the grace of the Holy Spirit we are a force to be reckoned with if we recognize the power we have in the life we give to others. Don’t waste it by sitting in that offered rocking chair; life is too precious for that.
Ruth Jewell, ©October 8, 2012