“Growing old is not for sissies”: That headline appears on a T-shirt I wear for workouts at the YMCA. I’m not sure when old age begins, but there are ample reminders when you get there, like regular brochures from the Cremation Society describing how memorable they can make your final departure.

Another reminder for me is when my wife, Char, scans the obituary section of the Sunday paper to see who else is gone. More of our Christmas letters are being returned, with a marking indicating the addressee has left without a forwarding address. It usually means our distant old friend or relative no longer has an address, at least not on earth.

While reminders of old age may not be uplifting, old age provides freedom that isn’t readily available for those who haven’t yet arrived. Seniors can apply time and resources to things they believe really matter, unburdened by a daily commute and work schedule. They can speak from the mind and heart about personal values, without regard to political correctness. They can observe the world around them as it is and not through rose colored glasses peddled by political candidates with newly-discovered visions.

Seniors can share wisdom and faith and history gained over a lifetime with a younger generation that still has a lot to learn. They can live a full life with family and friends while enjoying the many blessings that our God and creator has provided.

My wife and I had the privilege of attending the memorial service for a friend’s mother who died at the age of 102. It was a happy event because she had lived a full and active life, connected and engaged with her family until the end. She was a woman of faith, and I believe she left this world confident and unafraid.

Family members spoke with love and respect for this special lady, but words I will always remember came from a family member who summed up her life by saying she had used the whole runway. In life, only God knows how far it is to the finish line or the end of the runway, but there is no better way to live your life and serve your family and community than sprinting all the way.

Our nation is hurting. While Americans reportedly enjoy the highest average income in the world, respect for Americas’ once hallowed institutions like government, educational institutions and the news media has declined. Our fellow Americans are dying at unprecedented rates from suicide and drug overdose. In a land of plenty, there never seems to be enough for those who focus on what they want instead of on what someone else needs.

My American dream to marry the girl I loved, have children and be able to afford a home has been met and exceeded. But for some Americans today, the dream seems to be wanting way more than needed and more than can be attained. It’s the kind of dream that is likely to bring despair instead of happiness.

For many, disconnectedness has replaced family and community. The highest officials in our land who should be connected in a common goal to serve their constituents have lost the ability for civil debate. Rage has become the medium for expressing disagreement. Whether it’s impatient drivers on our streets or members of Congress publicly attacking each other, it reflects a breakdown in mutual trust and respect.

Our pledge of allegiance adopted by Congress during WWII included the phrase “one nation, under God, indivisible, with justice for all.” Have we forgotten the meaning of these words, and are we teaching our youth what these words mean?

Seniors, it’s time to get off the couch. The younger generation has the smarts to help with your PC or smartphone, but you have the wisdom to teach them how to live meaningful and generous lives. Your personal stories can teach grandchildren about the values that built this nation, like personal independence, mutual tolerance, respect for all and accountability for our own actions.

Growing old is not for sissies, nor is life itself, but we are God-equipped with brain and conscience to help us cope, and our forefathers gave us a nation and a Declaration of Independence promising that we are endowed by our creator “with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We should not allow these gifts to be squandered.

Wes Mader is a former Prior Lake mayor. Following retirement after serving as president of Bowmar Aerospace and Defense in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Wes and his wife Char retired in Prior Lake.

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