Living on the way to life’s exit

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We are young.”

- Fun

It’s 7 a.m. on any given weekday, and the regular crowd shuffles in. No one asks where to sit; it’s been settled by habit over the years.
I’m at the retirement facility in Lubbock, Texas, where my mom and dad live. And on this day, I join my dad’s breakfast bunch. This morning, Dad, age 89, is undergoing a knee replacement while Mom, 92, waits in their apartment.
At the breakfast table, Larry, the retired cotton farmer, sits to my left, calmly smiling beneath his red suspenders and flannel shirt. To my right Bob, once an entrepreneur has a back problem that forces him to hunch over just a bit. He leads the discussion as to the whereabouts of the missing Tabasco sauce. Next to him is Leonard, whose wistful eyes, shock of gray hair and lean frame could give you the impression he might just don a hard hat and build another house in South Bend, Ind. Then there is the soft spoken, unassuming Elvin, who at 99 years young, just had his driver’s license renewed for two more years. Dr. Holmes, the retired pediatrician, sitting across from me, speaks tenderly and respectfully but with a measure of authority, and tucking his chin to his chest as he speaks, reminds me of a wise owl. I assume Tom, the former art teacher, sported his trimmed goatee when he taught years ago, for it still fits the professorial part.
And here they hold court on the events of life as summarized on last evening’s news.
Sitting with my elders, I at 57, feel somewhat like the Sigma Chi pledge I once was, communing at the breakfast table with the older guys at Baylor’s Student Union, cautious of saying too much yet feeling compelled to join in. A brief semester later and I would have a pledge fetching coffee for me. Ahh, we were young frat boys clad in our saddle oxfords, button down shirts with frat pins - sipping our coffee, sitting on the edge of our seats, anxious to implement our plans to set the world ablaze.
We were young.
At least for a night.
Or a wake up coffee at the Student Union.
And then I was gone.
I moved on from the table.
In the passing years, I watched as others, including myself in certain seasons of life, tried to cheat the Time Keeper. But like Billy, the character Michael Douglas plays in the just released movie, “Last Vegas,” we can put on a slick image in an attempt to outrun the aging process that relentlessly chases us. Yet the truth is impossible to hide: Sooner or later time catches us all. “Your teeth, your hair, even your tan is phony,” his friend Paddy (Robert De Niro), tells Billy.
The fact is, we can deny it; we can resist it; we can fight it, but we can’t hide from it: We all grow older. And, at some point, we are gone.
Dying is a process that begins at birth and must be allowed to happen in predictable and unknown ways. The God of the present moment fills in the gaps and all points in between, making living worthwhile. I’ll do all I can to look and feel as healthy as possible while anticipating fellowship at another Table set by the Friend of Friends.
In the meantime, we sit at the table with each other, appreciating each moment for all it’s worth.
It’s Larry ordering an extra poached egg and slipping in one of his strips of bacon for me to take to Mom (“It’s what your dad does each morning,” he whispers to me); it’s Everett taking Mom and Dad’s dog out while I’m taking care of Dad at the hospital; it’s Bob printing my airline tickets so I can spend some extra time with Dad; and it’s the Dr. listening for me to tell him how Dad is doing while showing me how to adjust that little gadget on the stationary bike in the exercise room. And it’s Tom and Leonard repeatedly asking how Mom and Dad are getting along.
Little slices of caring in a time where time is all we really have.
“I’m sure your parents are glad you’ve come all the way out here to help take care of them,” Bobbie at the ladies’ breakfast table says to me as I walk by on my way to the airport. “But then, I guess you had it coming,” she laughs.
“Oh yeah,” I chuckle back to her. “They spent plenty of time taking care of me.”
I find my way to the exit.
And then, I am gone.
Editor’s note: Contact David B. Whitlock, Ph.D., at drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com or visit his website,www.davidbwhitlock.com.