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To the Saints that are in Los Osos, September 2020
I am thinking of milestones and markers as I write for September. I remember telling my mother about things that were happening when I was in High School. She gave me advice that didn’t seem relevant and told me that “some things always stay the same.” As I reflect back from an age greater than hers at that time, I realize that I was right... things were different. There were things that were outside of her experience and about which she really didn’t have any understanding. I also realize that she was right... no matter how much things change, they stay the same. I’ve come to accept this paradox. My mother had not experienced the rapidity of change that was happening in the 1960’s and 1970’s and could only deal analogically with the questions I had – and in the same way change has continued to accelerate so that I can’t truly comprehend some of the situations that face my daughter at half my age. On the other hand, experience has given me touchstones that so provide real insight. Where all this comes down and how it applies I’m not sure, but I’m treading water as fast as I can.
What prompted this is that I was thinking about milestones in our lives. We have many individual milestones, but we have so many that are shared. Since I am turning 65 in two days, I have been thinking specifically about “milestone birthdays.” In every culture there are birthdays that are regarded as milestones. In some Asian cultures the first birthday is one of the biggest milestones. In the past especially, mortality rates were high. It wasn’t until a child was one year old that it was recognized as a living human person. In some places a name was not even given. In general, in the West, most milestone birthdays fall on decades or half decades. As a child, I can remember being excited when I turned five. It was a very big deal to turn ten. Between ten and thirty, other milestones became more important than the decades.
Legal driving age varies by state with driving permits being allowed in some at fifteen and full licenses not eighteen in some places. When I was growing up in San Diego one could get a learners permit at fifteen and a license with full privileges at sixteen. My high school had a very advanced driver’s training program as a full semester course with components that included classroom instruction, driving simulators and an actual driving range with the instructor giving instructions to young drivers over limited range AM radio. Of course, those days are long gone.
I vividly remember my mother driving me to the DMV on my sixteenth birthday to get my license. I passed the written test and the driving test and as soon as I got home was handed the keys to the car that my parents had decided that I could drive – a gigantic 'landboat' 1957 DeSoto Firesweep station wagon with push-button transmission that I can remember my parents buying new. I went for a long solo drive in that car that got between eight and ten miles to the gallon – but who cared. Gas cost 24.9 cents per gallon... less if there was a gas war.
After sixteen the next milestone was eighteen. Eighteen was not a milestone for the vote. Eighteen-year-olds wouldn’t be granted the vote for another year, but it was the year that I had to register for the draft. It was also the last year that anyone had to register. Then came twenty-one when it was finally legal to drink. I remember my best friends taking me to some rather poor restaurant to celebrate with my first ever purchased cocktail. It was a pretty pathetic experience. After twenty-one, the milestones flipped back to the decades. As you read this, please don’t minimize the impact and trauma of these changes... they are real and important when one is experiencing them. Turning thirty is difficult for most people – youth is quite literally finally gone and with it a certain freedom. A good friend and clergy colleague of mine, a few months older, spent several months complaining about ‘the death of his youth,’ and how he would have to go to cemeteries to visit old friends. We, his loving friends, threw him a wake and a “funeral for his youth.” Because many of us were clergy we planned a full service complete with liturgy, eulogy, sermon and special music. At the end, we made him sit in a chair at the front as we filed by for the “viewing.” Oddly enough, none of the rest of us complained about turning thirty.
For some reason, turning forty was not as traumatic as I expected. I wasn’t ready to begin a midlife crisis, my body systems were still in pretty good working order, I was regularly going to the gym, and all-in-all my fortieth year was one of the happiest and healthiest of my life. Turning fifty was a little different. Things had begun to slow down and while I had no real health issues, the body just didn’t work as well as before. Turning sixty was lost in a blur because it happened in the middle of my move here to Los Osos and I had so many other things going on I kind of missed it. Now I am turning sixty-five and challenges are beginning to show up. I am having issues with “essential tremors,” and I see myself slowing down.
Then there are the milestones that prompted this column. I have to apply for Medicare. I saw what a hassle that was for Rachel and my joyful journey will begin on Tuesday. Also, while not related directly to milestone birthdays, my driver’s license came up for renewal this year. At sixteen I spent less than an hour at the DMV, yesterday I spent seven hours mostly in the sun waiting to get in to renew my license. The good news is I still don’t need glasses to drive. The bad news, at least yesterday, is that the process took such a toll on me that I fell asleep by 8:00 o’clock.
I guess that takeaways here are that 1) birthdays are good for you – the more you have, the longer you live; and 2) aging is not for the faint of heart.
See you in (virtual) church - and Zoom fellowship,