My Uncle Marlin turned 100 years old this weekend. His children and grandchildren hosted a big party at his nursing home. As you would expect, there were balloons and old photographs, cake and punch, and lots of subtle finger-pointing as friends and family tried to figure who was who. My brother and sister traveled from out-of-town to join me in representing our father’s side of the family for the event.
Before the crowds arrived, I had the opportunity to pull a chair up close to my uncle. I asked him if he ever thought he’d live to be 100. A smile stretched across his face as he shook his head no. Then he told me a story.
When he was a young boy, a traveling carnival came to his tiny central Texas town. My uncle said he was fascinated by the fortune teller who lured passersby with promises of revealing how their lives would unfold. He says he couldn’t resist discovering what the fortune teller would say about him. Maybe that he would be a wealthy oil man or perhaps that he would one day own a huge ranch or his own business.
No, the fortune teller told him that he would die at the age of 41.
I laughed and told him I thought we should track down the woman and get his money back. But on the way home, I began to think about what he had said. I wondered if his 41st birthday came with dread and fear instead of celebration. Or if he tip-toed through the year with a caution light flashing constantly. I wondered if he let out a sigh when his 42nd birthday finally arrived.
I don’t know for sure, but somehow I imagine the fortune teller’s prophecy rolled around in the back of my uncle’s mind, even though he is a man of great faith. The episode reminded me of the power of words. How what we say can either encourage or discourage another sojourner.
As we approach Thanksgiving Day, may we each give thanks for older adults, particularly those who are frail and too-often forgotten. May we use words that will encourage them in their journey. Words that will cheer them on to live fully in the promises of God, not of fortune tellers.