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The benefits of aging (there are some)

Rich Mayfield

Now that I am closer to 60 than 50, I find myself diligently seeking out the benefits, real or imagined, of growing older.

A couple came to mind this week, the first being the liberation that aging allows. I think particularly here of what people particularly think. Or put another way, the older you get, the less of a problem it is that people have a problem with you.

There is a genuine sense of freedom that accompanies the aging process. Walking around with half my shirt untucked or with a piece of spinach wedged between my teeth doesn’t have the devastating emotional impact it had when I was young. In addition, and for instance, I can now enjoy the deep pleasure of a vocalized burp without the humiliation that once accompanied its unannounced arrival. Now folks just smile and accept my growing senility. I suppose the only concern with all of this comes from my wife, who worries where it may be leading. I say to a new freedom! She thinks its more like old fogeydom.

I was reminded of the other benefit while reading of the fascinating new discovery of our earliest known hominid ancestor, Sahelanthropus tchadensis or “Toumai” for short. He or she lived between six and seven million years ago and provides a vital bridge between who we now are and who we once were. I suppose such a find has little impact on those good folk who are convinced that the human race began a few weeks before Genesis, but the rest of us are rubbing our wrinkles and wondering what all this may mean.

For instance, the scientific community was, until Toumai’s surprising arrival, convinced our ancestry was a little younger than this new discovery asserts … by some million-plus years! This new discovery has forced many archaeologists and others to reexamine their scientific preconceptions and look again at the hypotheses with which they have been operating. Dr. Daniel E. Lieberman of Harvard, writing in the New York Times, goes even further: “(This) discovery – highly significant in the search for our evolutionary origins – is equally significant for what it tells us about the nature of science. In science, one never possesses the complete truth. One can only look for what, at a given time, cannot be proved wrong.”

Now that I’m no longer denying my date with destiny, I would say the very same thing about religious truth. The perspective of age allows us to recognize just how transitory our theological concepts are. To be too convinced that we have all the evidence is to fool ourselves into thinking that our truth is THE truth.

My own tradition, Christianity, provides vivid witness to this folly. There was a time, and not all that long ago, when we Christians thought slavery was ordained by the Almighty. It took vociferous arguments and a terrible war before most of us decided that either God made a mistake or our understanding of God was wanting.

I have to admit it’s a pretty nice feeling to figure I don’t have God all figured out. The older you get, the more you realize how little you control. Never having been one who liked surprises when young, I now realize that surprises aren’t all that surprising. The only constant is change, they say, and I look forward to finding a few new ways for changing before I finally run out of benefits.

Rich Mayfield is pastor of the Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church and a regular columnist for the Summit Daily News.


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