Columnists > Judgment Calls

Turning 50

Listen hard, 30-year-olds

Issue: "The Mormon Olympics," Feb. 16, 2002

Well, it's official. An AARP membership card came in the mail (which in pique I tossed in the trash with the supermarket circulars), and unless something even more unfortunate happens, I will be 50 by the time this goes out. Moreover, two out of four Beatles are now dead (the trend is not encouraging). News of it came shoehorned between local weather and an update on the protracted battle over Philadelphia public schools. So much for the generation that trusted no one over 30, and sneered along with The Who: "hope I die before I get old."

If this is how it is, let me do the one thing that whippersnappers can't, and tell my cautionary tale. Would that in those olden callow days I myself had grabbed the hem of a 50-year-old and made her sit with me and empty herself of wisdom, and of sand traps to avoid. Yet I did not listen then.

"How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you" (Proverbs 1:22-23). "Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the Lord your God and have no awe of Me" (Jeremiah 2:19). "At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent. You will say, 'How my heart spurned correction!'" (Proverbs 5:11-13). (A whole other set of verses leaps to the mind of the one who is recalcitrant than the one who is faithful.)

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In Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, a woman of about 50, black clad, hagridden, and the worse for wear, sits alone upon her mount on a hill day by day, watching for her lithe and lovely younger self to happen by on the path below (as she will again and again, without the slightest deviation, for eternity). The young girl, pretty head tossed back proud and carefree, is bound for the folly that will one day land her, a choice at a time, alone on a mare at the top of a hill, regret etched in her sallow face, watching for her younger self to happen by, that she might head her off with warning. This is her sentence. What tiresome Left Bank Existentialist dares say that man is insignificant! Man is so maddeningly significant that his every move alters history for all times.

When I was 30, the Bible didn't know much; now that I am 50, I am amazed at how much insight it has gained: Every jot and tittle overtakes you in the end (Zechariah 1:6). If God seems slow to act, be sure that He's biding his time, and count His silence as patience. You may as well play chess with Gary Kasparov as disobey God.

Fifty is not the same for me as for you, of course. I will allow that by 50 there are songs almost entirely sweet, for those who have walked faithfully and found Him faithful. Let these sing of the sweetness of God; I will sing of the irony and craftiness of God. Let them describe His smiling face; I will testify to the face I have seen: "To the blameless you show yourself blameless, but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd" (2 Samuel 22:26,27). Let us make room for both kinds of testimony, the mule's and the Kentucky Derby winner's. Scripture itself does, including Ecclesiastes along side Song of Songs.

Yet out of the ashes of rebuke, a new sensation appears that may be joy, faint as the quickening in a mother's womb. And even-now that I have lost everything -something that comes over me anon and whispers almost playfully, "Shall we not take the adventure that Aslan hands us?" Like Lewis's reassuring "chuckle in the dark." Like a pressure lifted now that I have finally let go and someone else is driving the bus.

All are songs of mercy in the end. All will have the experience of looking over their shoulders to the sign above the portal by which they've entered heaven, to read: good works prepared for you from before the dawn of time. So what if Puzzle and I, in our first knee-knocking encounter with an Aslan transfigured, feel our donkey ears drooping for a quick, painful moment. He will straightaway perk them up again.

The dream is over. Welcome to reality. Timothy Leary's dead (not just "outside lookin' in"). Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters are dead. I told my kids, "George Harrison is dead." My kids replied, "Who's that?" ("Flower power" people forgot that "As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.")


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