By, Rev. Howard C. Earle, Jr., D.Min.
Growing up, I had the pleasure of spending some time with some really cool uncles. My dad’s older brother, Uncle Alfred, was perhaps the coolest of uncles. Even though he was older, he had no problem connecting with younger people. Uncle Alfred was an education professional and spent much of his career in elementary and middle schools. I’m sure this kept him young and vibrant. I didn’t see him very often because he lived in another city. So, when I did see him, it was always special. I even remember the time I got to spend a couple of nights with him in his apartment. Usually all of our visits were at my grandparents’ house.
I was always excited when he extended an invitation to take a ride with him. Some of the car rides were longer than others. There were quick grocery store runs, rides to other relatives’ homes, or rides with no particular destination. The destination never was the priority for me. We could have gone around the block on roller skates and I would have been just as eager to take the ride because Uncle Alfred’s invitation meant that he wanted my company. Even though I can’t recall all of the details about our excursions, I remember how good it felt to be in my uncle’s company. He was an adult and as far as I was concerned, he knew everything. He was funny, smart, and a great listener. Our conversations ranged from sports, school, family, movies, and anything else germane to the world of an adolescent male. Unfortunately, Uncle Alfred’s life was cut short by cancer and the loss was one I wasn’t prepared for. But I’m certain those car rides were integral in shaping me and making me the person I’ve become.
Looking back on those rides provides another window through which we can view aging. Think about some of your favorite invitations to take a ride. What made the invitation and the ride special? Was it the ride itself, the vehicle, destination, or scenery? Or was it the time spent with the person who extended the invitation? Do you have an awesome uncle like mine? These were questions we played with in one of our Nobody Asked Me groups.
Once again, I was tickled and impressed by what I heard. Imagine being invited to ride in a friend’s airplane or on someone’s boat. Someone even spoke about memorable moments with a special uncle, just like me. Life is filled with invitations to take rides. And some of those rides are experiences that we forget soon after we return, and others stay with us for a lifetime. Remember when you first learned to drive, and you or your friends had access to a car? Remember the fun you had on a ride with your spouse, life partner, and or partner in crime? I hope these questions evoke feelings of nostalgia and make you smile. My dad and I must have gone on thousands of rides over the years. What I wouldn’t give to take one more ride with him.
While we laughed about the joys of these invitations and rides, we also wrestled with the tension brought on by the reality of senior years. As we age, it seems the invitations to take a ride subside. Assumptions are made like, “you probably won’t go because you will get sleepy”, or “you don’t want to walk,” or any of the other often shallow assumptions people make about senior adults. We all stayed present in the moment and allowed ourselves to feel and empathize with each other as we grieved no longer taking those rides. Yes, aging does come with diminishment and limitations, but it does not take the appreciation for a good ride.
Aging certainly has profound impact on the quality of life but be vigilant on what you surrender. There will be seasons when nobody will ask you if you want to go. The invitations may stop, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ride! At moments we felt our spirits sink, but we soon found buoyancy again when we began to explore the new opportunities available in this season of life. Rather than grieve the rides you no longer take, embrace the new ones you can. Extend your own invitations instead of waiting for one. The ride may or may not be in a car. The point is, you are alive now, so take the ride and live!
Join us on Mondays at 2:00 pm on the Vistas patio or Tuesdays at 9:30 am in the Chapel for more invigorating discussion about the gift of aging.