This past week my wife and I took off for Ohio with all three of our beautiful daughters. Typically, the trip from Syracuse to Cleveland takes about five and a half hours. That, of course, is without three children under the age of 4. Due to the children – and my need for coffee – we tend to stop and take our time, letting the kids stretch and run around for a bit. This trip we stopped at a Panera in Erie, PA for an hour or so.
One of the things my wife and I both love to engage in – whether consciously or not – is, what is normally deemed, people-watching. Across from us sat an older couple with another older woman all of whom were dressed nicely in the best Sunday religious garb. Chatting about the Sunday service and the screaming baby of an obvious visitor topped the list of topics for this midday.
Soon another older couple joined them and the older woman’s husband came in as well. As is the norm, they were blatantly taking in the scene across from them, namely, my wife and our three daughters. The age difference was great enough that we could have been their children for the day; our children, their temporarily adopted grandchildren. And as the one woman asked if she could buy our older girls some cookies, we quickly became just that.
But then something struck me. As I sat there with my wife of 6 years and my three children, I began to wonder about this question: Who will I grow old with? The people surrounding me was the obvious answer, but then as I continued to gaze at these friends, it became clear they had spent a good amount of years together. Beyond their marital vows and relationships, this group seemed to know each other well; they seemed to have the type of knowing that comes from laughing and weeping, from eating simple meals at each others’ homes and fancied up ones at their children’s weddings, from deaths in the family to new babies being born. Of course this could all be in my imagination, but like a Normal Rockwell painting, I felt like their simple meal together filled with familiarity was speaking volumes.
Once back in the car, I asked my wife who she thought we’d grow old with besides ourselves. In our neo-nomadic lifestyles of 21st century America, the odds of growing old with neighbors, friends, and, unfortunately, even family are growing worse and worse. Searching for a better house, a better church, a better job, a better climate, etc. seem to be the carrot in front of the horse of modern citizens of the West. The story of easy mobilization combined with individualism and consumerism has continually crashed over us rendering us frightened of things such as stability and rootedness. It is difficult to grow old with those we move away from.
Perhaps it is from the reading I’ve been doing. Perhaps it is from the community I’ve been attempting to cultivate. Perhaps it is from seeing pictures of my friends and family from yesteryear. Perhaps it was a simple contrast of a table of older friends with my younger family. But I wonder, what do we need to do to have a community that grows old together? What intentional decisions and sacrifices need to be made to move towards that end?
As we continued to talk and drive with our lovely ladies in tow, I continued (and still continue) to wonder about encounter that had just taken place. Perhaps it was a road trip version of lighting the fourth Advent candle of love and anticipation. Whatever the case may be, I want to run with this experience and its implications and see where the Spirit may be leading and waiting.
What about you? Who will you grow old with?