Monday, August 18, 2014

Giving up the car keys

   Getting a driver’s license is the symbol of independence for young people.  Giving up the car keys is the opposite for older adults. 

   Several years ago I was speaking to a group of older adults in a retirement center about the changes we could expect.  When I finished, a woman told me the old man sitting beside me had wept as I read the following prayer-poem from my book Prayers of an Omega.  Just that week he had given up driving and still felt lost, despondent. 

                                             I sure liked to drive my car
   Lord, this morning I turned in my license to drive. I put it in an envelope and wrote a note saying I wasn’t going to drive anymore.  The kids patted me on the back and said, “Great, Dad. Good decision. We’re all for you. Then they drove the car away.

   I think I felt at relieved. At ease. 

   No more worrying whether I’d make the left turn onto the highway before another car zoomed by.  No more worrying whether I’d see the little girl on the bicycle behind me. No more worrying whether the elusive shadows at night were pedestrians enjoying the evening air.

   But I miss the feel of a ring of hard keys in my pocket. I reach for them, just to give them a caress. But they’re not there. I want to go out and start the car. For no reason. Then I remember. The car is gone. I will never back it out of the garage onto the road again.  I will never again experience the engine surging to full power with me at the wheel.

   We always had a quiet life. Not much traveling. Others talked about Disneyland and Yosemite, but we liked it here. At home. We had a car to dash to the store to get milk for breakfast. To go to church. And to visit the children. And to check on the waving wheat fields in early summer with windows open. Slow, poky Sunday drivers, they called us. We didn’t mind.

   The children say they’ll take me anywhere I need to go. Just phone and they’ll come. But my longing to see that lilac bush welcome the spring disappears when I have to squeeze a passing look at it between a dentist’s appointment and a quick trip to the post office to catch the last mail. Middle-aged children haven’t got time for nature’s all-out shout of welcome in spring just yet.

   Lord, I desperately want to know whether the redbuds bloomed this spring on the street where we used to live. I want to know what color Jim and Helen painted their house. I want to spend the afternoon driving – for no reason.

   Reach out your hand, my Lord, and place it here in the warm hollow of my hand where I used to hold the keys.

   Prayers of an Omega: Facing the Transitions of Aging was published in 1994.    I wrote it to give the gift of speech to older adults who feel inadequate to speak to God for and about themselves in a challenging situation.  I tried to incorporate a wide variety of experiences and feelings into these contemporary psalms to be as open as the psalmists who poured out their feelings about the enemy facing them or the God who was able to deliver them.

   I grouped the prayers in five untitled divisions: the transitions into the land of the aging, family life, specific changes an older adult faces like moving to a nursing home, and the trials that challenge faith like illness, loneliness, acceptance of mortality, and death.  

    I thank all adults older than I am for their testimonies of faith that have strengthened me in my pilgrimage.  They are my cloud of fire by day and pillar of light by night.