Not long ago, I addressed the question readers ask me most often: How do I come up with ideas for columns?
The second-most frequent comment I get is a suggestion rather than a question: Quit saying you’re old, readers chide me. You’re not old.
For instance, a very nice lady recently wrote to say she'll soon be 89 and doesn’t feel old, and at my tender age, I have no clue what old is.
For the record, I’ll turn 62 next month. Eligible for Social Security. Why, I’m practically a pup.
Seriously, getting old is a matter of perspective. I know that.
The first time I wrote about how old I was starting to feel, I was about to turn 35.
My son will be 35 in May, and I still consider him a boy. The very idea that a 35-year-old would describe himself as old makes me giggle today.
I’m sure the octogenarian who wrote me feels the same. Sixty-two? Old? What a knee-slapper!
But when I say I’m old, I don’t mean I’m staggering around on my walker, morosely waiting for the meat wagon to haul me away.
Actually, I lead an active — and joyful — life.
I’m gainfully employed and hope to remain so. I lead two church services every week. I write newspaper columns.
I’m working on a book, and have two or three more planned for when I finish this one.
I’m happily married to my younger trophy wife.
I paint. When I get the opportunity, I travel. I hang out with friends and talk trash. I’m interested in watching new movies and reading good books.
I’m ambulatory enough to go anywhere I want, anytime I choose, under my own power.
Once a week, I even babysit five grandkids ages 3 to 9 all by my geezer self. I help them with their homework and tell them quaint stories about the olden days — if I can pry them out of their Chromebooks long enough to indulge me.
I’m blessed, and unspeakably grateful for those blessings.
I used to work with a journalist who, sitting before his computer screen, would occasionally sigh and declare aloud, apropos of nothing, “When you’re dead at 17, you’re dead at 17.”
He never bothered to explain what that meant.
But if I might appropriate it, I think it helps explain what I mean when I say, “I’m old.”
It’s not a statement of despair or surrender or chronology. It’s a recognition of mortality.
What I’ve experienced is to some extent universal, I’m sure, but here’s my own version.
Like most children, I spent my early life being the youngest person in the room, or one of the youngest. Adults laughed at my jokes and indulged my hijinks.
Later, I came of age during the 1960s and ‘70s, when the whole nation seemed to begin and end with us Baby Boomers. We celebrated our glorious youth and distrusted those over 30 and partied like there would be no reckoning.
All said, I just had an unusually happy, secure childhood and adolescence.
I felt fully, wonderfully alive. Somewhere in my soul, I took it for granted I’d be young and full of sap and invulnerable and dearly loved forever.
I didn’t think consciously about those things, yet assumed they were my destiny because I didn’t know there were any alternatives.
I’ve since learned there’s this thing called Time.
Here’s a true story.
Recently, I attended a church meeting in Winchester. I had to leave early, and as I approached the exit an usher opened the glass door.
As he did, the overhead lights reflected off the glass.
I saw what appeared to be a man walking toward me, and for a split second I thought, “Wow, that guy looks exactly like Dad.”
In the next instant, I realized I was seeing my own reflection in the door. But it was my late father: same shock of gray hair, same ample jowls, same navy sweater, same khakis, same stooped gait.
It almost took my breath. “I’ve become my father in his latter years,” I thought.
That’s not the only time it’s happened. Whenever I catch my image in a mirror or a window, I expect to see a lean, tanned, confident teenager looking back at me.
Instead I see a paunchy, ever-so-mortal man on the far side of middle age, slowly winding toward the inevitable.
When I head to gym for a workout, I expect to bench press 300 pounds, only to get there and discover my wrecked shoulders will only let me lift the empty bar itself.
Turned out this time business is for real.
It’s just like the Bible says. Youth fades. Everything created dies.
Don’t get the wrong impression. I haven’t given up. I’m not depressed in the least.
I love my life. I plan for the future.
And no, I’m not truly old.
But I’m not 17 or even 35 anymore, and never will be again. I’m closer to the end than to the beginning, unless I expect to live to 125.
That’s OK. It’s part of a natural, ancient cycle.
Sometimes, however, it still comes as a shock.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at email@example.com.