The deep mid-winter is the birthday season in our family. That means that someone you love’s day of birth comes swooshing along – truthfully – when you least expect it. When you’re not ready for it. As a big surprise.
It’s the grandmother who thinks about presents – the right, the perfect present. And the daughter.
My job always, is to write a birthday letter. To make it half-card, half-letter. To tell the birthday person who they are to us. What their character, their spirit means to us. What they mean to the world. What their “presence” means in our life.
And, you have to get it right. To be sure your description rings true. For the young especially, need to be affirmed. To be reminded you really know who they are. That you know their heart, and helping them be true to that inner self. That spirit that they recognize.
The grandmother, who makes the assignment, doesn’t really read the letter, I’ve discovered. “Well, what if I get it wrong?” I’ve protested. She just looks knowingly at me, and more or less says, “You get it, don’t worry.” So, I do it, each year, hoping I don’t repeat myself.
This year, a granddaughter who lives at the other end of this country, turns 15. Oh, so many thoughts – and memories – about being a dead-center teen-ager.
At a Sunday lunch at a restaurant we love, I turned to the 63-year-old birthday person, and said, “Do you remember 15?” Without a moment’s hesitation, she shot back “Yes!” Which could have meant a lot of things.
I remember 15 as a trying time of a first girlfriend, of being uncoordinated, of going away to a private school, and being lonely but saved by going out for crew, and learning to row, and singing in the Glee Club of that boys’ school.
Even learning to write, happened there, where Porter Dean Caesar made us memorize Shakespearean sonnets and other poetry. It was a new world of literature I wouldn’t have had at home in Portsmouth.
I remember that the body sort of came together that year. Both rowing and wrestling helped. And – strange for me – I began to win. On the water. In a racing shell. Even gaining the stroke seat in that four-oared shell, a leading of others. It all just changed for me.
And now, at 91, things are different again. My body won’t do just what I want it to do. Parts hurt – hands, back. Many muscles shrunk away. Molly and I work at figuring out this stage. The dying decade, most likely.
It is what people where we live are doing: dying. And staff folks help us “go easy into that night.” From chaplain to exercise people.
You can do something with hair in this decade. It’s all white now. You can let it grow long – or short. Or – grow a beard.
It’s a time to stand straighter – regaining a few of the six inches you’ve lost.
What means much to me, is thinking. Including praying. And writing, like these weekly, meandering blogs. Oh, bless Laury, who types and computes, and makes communications work.
Writing and thinking and helping the body change and grow were part of that decade where 15 comes in the middle. It wasn’t quite so serious as the twenties. The nineties are most like the twenties; very serious.
Because now, it’s for keeps. It’s forever. There’s a finish line up ahead. But, you don’t know where it is. I want to cross it with my head up, and my heart full. And my faith more and more wonderfully alive. Filled with Jesus. That’s the most serious part. The forever part. My dear partner in life helps me cling to that.
Is it different? Oh, yes. What about change? It’s all around me. My job is to love. And so live. And keep going, till the “roll is called up yonder.” High adventure I tell you. - As actually, every age is.
Love you, pals!
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES