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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Crossing the rubicon

With his birthday on Aug. 14, blogger Rodger McDaniel now has joined Wyoming's burgeoning 70-and-over crowd. He says this gives him the chance to celebrate "the freedom that comes with growing older."

By Rodger McDaniel 

This past Monday, I joined a few thousand Wyoming folks who will celebrate the end of their 60s this year.

The Census Bureau says there are 12,000 of us between the ages of 67 and 69. The numbers rise to more than 16,000 for those 70 to 74, before taking a steep decline from estimates your life expectancy
there till the end. Only 7,681 of our Wyoming neighbors are older than 85.

There is a rather involuntary nature to birthdays. They just keep coming until one day they don’t. And yet there seems to be something bold and optimistic about having one more. You don’t know what or how much time is ahead, which makes it all the more engaging.

It’s like driving down an old dirt road in the middle of the night. You can see only as far as your headlights allow, but every year that seems more and more OK. It’s probably healthy not to be able to see any further.

At this age, there are few certainties. Former Gov. Ed Herschler used to joke, “I don’t even buy green bananas anymore.” We aren’t guaranteed another birthday. Each passing year makes the likelihood of another one less likely, although there is a curious statistical increase in life expectancy as we age.

When I celebrated my 59th birthday, I had a life expectancy of more than 22 years. Now that I have lived 10 of those years, the actuaries say I can expect another 14.

At, you get an even more precise calculation of the “Estimated Time of Arrival” of the Grim Reaper. The website wants to know not just current age and gender, but also your lifestyle. Do you smoke, drink in excess, what is your body-mass index, and in what country do you live?

After plugging in the requested data, I was told, “Based on our calculations, you will die on Monday, 17 March 2031.” The death clock shows that I have 4,984 days, 3 hours, 43 minutes and an ever-declining number of seconds left.

That works for me. I’d be 82. That seems like a “long enough” life. It would give me the great satisfaction of seeing the last of my grandchildren graduate from high school and perhaps the older of the five earning a college diploma. Pat and I would have celebrated more than half a century of marriage and, knock on wood, I’d still be preaching at Highlands Presbyterian and tweaking local conservatives with weekly Tribune Eagle columns.

A couple of years ago, I took part in an informal gathering of ministers. All of us were in the same age range, i.e., older than average. We went around the table, taking turns answering this question: “What do you find to be optimistic about at this stage of your life?”

For me, it is the freedom that comes with growing older. This is a time when you can afford to be who God meant you to be. You can say what you mean and mean what you say. It’s not so easy in younger years, when starting a career means being careful about what you say and to whom you say it. It’s not so easy in younger years, when many of us are still grappling with understanding who we are and what we are being called to do or become. Older folks have the opportunity to be honest.

This is also the time of life when you get a more complete sense of how your path in life has prepared you for these years. I think of it regarding theologian Joan Chittister’s book, “The Gift of Years.” She writes about the stages of our lives.

“Each period of life has its own purpose. The latter one,” Ms. Chittister says, “gives me the time to assimilate all the others.”

Thus, nearing the end of 70 years of life is not a time to just “endure the coming ending of time.” It is time to come alive in ways we may never have “been alive before.”

Rodger McDaniel is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne. He resides in Laramie.

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