The Gift Of Age
By Fred Baldwin; Chaplain, Lutheran Hospice
Last week, after procrastinating for 4 years, I had my right hip replaced. I have no interest at all in knowing the actual mechanics of what they did I just know, to my amazement, I was up and walking the next day, in four days I graduated from a walker to a cane, and by the end of this week will return to limited duty as the chaplain for Lutheran Hospice. The battle has not been in my body but in my head. You see until I pass a mirror or have pain I still think I am in my 40s, 50 max and certainly not 73! It continues to come as a great surprise.
But to be “older” is an enormous gift because I no longer have to become, I am. The career in parish ministry is what it is. I did not become Archbishop of Canterbury. I have an amazing daughter but she is now a fully grown woman and when she calls me with a problem she no longer wants my advice, just my empathic listening. I do not have to walk a careful line when I preach so as not to offend my governing board, major donors or my bishop. Somehow I have found the wild and wooly prophets, especially Amos, to be friends who have very important messages for us to hear especially right now. But most of all I have this wonderful second ministry as hospice chaplain which is full of life.
To many, the idea of hospice seems so terminal but it is not. It is the sacred journey of a person and often their family towards the living Creator from whence they came. I have the privilege along with extraordinary colleagues..nurses, aides, social workers …of sharing that journey. It is an amazing gift.
There is the gift of listening. People share wonderful stories from their life, rich in detail about a Charleston now long gone. The story of a feisty octogenarian who got married at 17 and her wedding present from her father was a load of stones from his quarry in North Carolina to build a house that still stands today on Savannah Highway. The story of a minister who started out in a very conservative denomination who was drawn to champion the rights of those dismissed by his church, walking in the shoes of Jesus. The story of a lady who taught surfing well into her eighties. Each of us has such important stories to share and if we do not preserve them they will be lost.
There is the gift of celebrating. Often the elderly move into our area to live with their children as their health declines, leaving behind them their homes, their friends, their churches, their roots. One lady missed the horses she had out west so as a surprise we trailered an enormous steed down from Ladson to her West Ashley lawn and wheeled her out on oxygen. Or a party for a lady of 105 given by her college alumni association. Or planting a garden outside the window and bringing in a pot of dirt so she could feel again God’s earth. When we listen with care, there are so many wonderful experiences we can create and share.
There is the gift of being present even if there is nothing to be said or done. Holding a hand, singing a familiar hymn, offering a prayer… when I was younger I was much too busy to understand the profound joy of these gifts both in the giving and the receiving. And my hip replacement has been a special gift because it has slowed me down so I have walked on my walker with those on their walkers; it has given me the gift of time to share.
We are in the richest period of our lives where we have so much to give to a world hungry for the good news. I am glad I am no longer in my 40s, I am so much better now.