Fifteen years ago a young friend gave us a print of the Van Gogh painting above. I love Van Gogh but had never seen this painting and could not understand why of all his paintings she had given us this one. When I asked about it, she said, “It’s, you - you and Pauline”. I just didn’t get it. I could not imagine that Pauline and I would ever look like that!
That takes me back to the school song of the High School I attended, “Forty years on”. I attended Dandenong High School from the age of 13. Our school song was borrowed from ‘Harrow’ the famous English school. I can still remember thinking this is a dumb song, which has no interest or meaning to me or my fellow students. However, I have never forgotten it. The first verse goes.
Forty years on, when afar and asunder
Parted are those who are singing today,
When you look back, and forgetfully wonder
What you were like in your work and your play,
Then, it may be, there will often come o’er you,
Glimpses of notes like the catch of a song -
Visions of boyhood shall float them before you,
Echoes of dreamland shall bear them along,
Last week was Pauline’s birthday and in odd moments I heard her singing the Beatles’ song, ‘When I’m sixty-four’. The point being she turned 64 last Saturday. She said to me, “I could never imagine being sixty-four. I never thought this song would have any connection to me. But here I am!”
Singing my school song at 13 years of age,I thought the third verse that was most ridiculous. How could anything like this ever happen to me?
Forty years on, growing older and older,
Shorter in wind, as in memory long,
Feeble of foot, and rheumatic of shoulder,
What will it help you that once you were strong?
For me, it is now an unbelievable ‘60+ years on’ since I first sang that song. Now I understand the lyric, except for the comment about memory is not quite right. In my experience, it is ‘memory short’ at least for the immediate. It is true that it is ‘long’ for things far away. As the lyric goes, ‘visions of boyhood’ – teen years – etc, do come all unbidden into my mind and ‘float there before me’.
I have been looking again at the Van Gogh painting of the old couple. Maybe that could be Pauline and me. Our young friend’s imagination was on the mark.
The fact is, I have lived over 80% of my life. I am now well and truly into the final wind-down. How do I feel about that? Strangely enough, not too bad. Teenage was a high tension time for me. Changing schools was an unhappy and lonely experience. I was saved from depression and complete isolation by a wonderful church youth group. Now I am part of an extraordinary extended community. I am at ease in a way I never was in my teen years.
I think one of the great things about being part of a church community is that Jesus gives us permission to love one another – no, He ‘commands’ that we love one another. Several years ago and edict came out from Presbyterian headquarters directed to all ministers that the practice of hugging and kissing in church and after church must cease. Behind this announcement were the denomination’s insurers who were fearful of never ending lawsuits.
In fact, this edict had some effect for a few months and then was quietly ignored. In our congregation, the arrival of friends from the Middle East, Italy and eastern Europe has completely squashed the ‘no hugging or kissing’ rule.
When thinking about why I feel more peaceful now, I recognise that a key source of stability, and security for me is my marriage. This relationship has been a great antidote to the ‘lost in time and space’ and 'not fitting in' feeling of my early years
I note there are others tread a different path to me. Some marriages are de-stabilising. Many live without marriage. I don’t think that marriage is necessarily the key to a fulfilled life. But, I believe ‘love’ is. To find contentment it is my observation that somewhere, somehow, a person must connect with a source of love.
For Pauline and me the warmth we experience in a church goes far deeper than casual greetings and embraces. It many cases church friendships have grown into real love. We have come to know that this love can be relied on. For us, its not just the love of contemporaries. It includes the love of babies, children, teens and young adults. How fortunate are we! We can face anything. because we are not alone, we are not afraid, our church family walks with us.
But my wild imagination drags me back to the real world. Here is a song I have been playing with while thinking on this ‘beyond imagination’ and ‘forty years on’ topic. It is based on that old song, ‘After the Ball’. Sing along if you can.
After the fights are over
After the quarrels gone
Many the good times remembered
And new adventures begun
We will forgive each other
We will be kids again
Naughty and playful forever
It will be great.
Can you imagine that for yourself? I really can. Something to look forward to.
P.S.: Here is some practical advice for people who would like a new lease of life.
Like to be younger – not feel younger – but be younger?
Migrate to Ethiopia. In that country the Roman Calendar (ours) is ignored and the date of this year in Ethiopia is 2010. What this means is that all who reside there are 7 years younger than those who live in the world of the Roman calendar. Go for it!
Like to be treated with courtesy and respect by all, especially the young?
Move to Asia. In these cultures the aged are revered and admired as beautiful – even by the young, especially by the young. A welcome change from many NZ and Aussie young people who see everyone over 50 as ‘old farts’ and treat them accordingly.
Suffering from body-hunger – that is the loneliness of people who are never touched?
Go live in Italy or any one of the eastern European countries. In these countries, the normal way of greeting is a light hug and a kiss on both cheeks. (As well as women, men kiss men - get used to it!) If you have a bad case of body-hunger, go to Albania where the norm is two kisses on each cheek!
And why not be inventive?
A widower friend of mine gets up close and personal to a beautiful young woman every fortnight. She is his hairdresser. He never misses a shampoo and a hair-cut even though he does not have much hair.