Last week I took two elderly men to visit their former tablemate from a senior residence. He was a 91-year old man who had moved to an assisted living facility twenty miles away. All three older men are my friends. Thankfully, the experiences I’d had with my own father, who died a few years ago at age 89, helped me understand how difficult it is for men who were once physically strong to deal with the challenges of deteriorating health.
When I arrived to pick up the first two men at their senior residence, I parked my four-door sedan as close to the entrance as possible. Even so, getting in an out of the car was not an easy task for my friends. One man, a stroke survivor with weakened arm strength, needed help to buckle his seat belt. I tried to assist each of them without drawing attention to their physical limitations, knowing that humor and kindness go a long way in turning an awkward moment into a point of grace.
We made the twenty-mile trip to our 91-year old friend’s assisted living center. After we picked him up, we drove to a nearby restaurant. As the host began to seat us, one friend suggested that we take a table nearest the men’s restroom. We all laughed again, affirming his good idea. After menus were passed out, I realized that two of the men were having difficulty reading it because of vision problems. I quickly offered a summarized version and later placed their orders with the wait staff. I also noticed that just squeezing the ketchup bottle was a chore.
During our lunch of diverse menu selections (pancakes and eggs, a Philly steak sandwich, a hamburger and fried shrimp), we had lively conversation about how much the world has changed in their lifetime. We talked about things like the toll tag on my car and about golfing vacations to Scotland, RV-ing in Florida and exploring lighthouses of the eastern U.S.
As they talked, I looked carefully at my older friends. They had been young, energetic men with great career success. They had lived interesting lives of faith, adventure and travel. Now nearing the end of their earthly timelines, I knew they were humbled by their dependence on others.
As we left the restaurant, one whispered in my ear that he appreciated me taking three old geezers out for lunch. I laughed, steadying each one as they stepped from doorway to the sidewalk. I thought about how God sometimes uses the unexpected intersection of lives for his specific purpose.
Six years ago, I had never met these three older men. Now they are my dear friends. They are just a few steps ahead of me in the aging process. What they are experiencing will likely happen to me, if I live long enough. Most importantly, they teach me daily about what it is to age well, with grace and faith.