In this age of Trump, I find that, more and more, I’m thinking of my friends Neil, Ben and Jean.
In this time of hate and fear-mongering, I want to tap into their hope and faith and joy for living.
I’ve played basketball with Neil at the school gym at St. Gertrude parish on the Far North Side most Sundays for the last ten years, and, every once in a while, I feel the need to ask him his age.
“Seventy-seven and a half.”
That’s how he answered me recently after a couple hours on the court.
We call our weekly Sunday afternoon pickup games “Geri-ball,” as in geriatrics. It’s for guys 35 and older although a number of fathers bring their teenage sons (and daughters) as well. (They’re great for handling fast breaks.) Many of us now are in our 50s or 60s, and we all want to be Neil when we grow up.
Neil, who runs a lot of 5K races, is the oldest among us. He’s up and down the court with the rest of us and has a wicked outside shot. Sure, he’s slowed down a bit over the years. All of us have. But, when his shot’s going in, he’s a deadly presence around the three-point line. And, under the basket, he has sharp elbows. (If you’ve played much basketball, you know what I mean.)
I end up asking Neil his age every so often because I’m constantly amazed at his resolve to stay in the game and his joy at continuing to play. All of the rest of us talk about how we hope to be going as strong when we’re as old as he is.
“…and a half”
Kids love the “and a half” because it shows that they’re not quite so little any more. They’re hungry for life, and they know there’s a big, exciting world out there. They’re chomping at the bit to dive deep into it.
That’s what I took away from Neil’s answer. Here’s a guy who’s had a long eventful life, and he’s still hungry for more. Not only is he still doing a lot of freelance writing, but he and his wife Jill travel the world and do a heavy amount of caretaking each week for their twin grandsons — who are three and a half.
Greeting each day with happiness
I’ve seen the same spirit in Ben, my 96-year-old barber, a survivor of two years at Auschwitz where the Nazis killed his entire family except one brother.
Ben greets each day with happiness. He loves barbering. He enjoys talking with his customers. He likes feeling that, through his barbering, he’s helping the world in some small way.
I’ve never told him this, but, when I’m down, that’s when I go to him for a haircut. He never fails to brighten my day.
There are certainly enough bad things in the world today and certainly enough bad things that happen to each of us as we age. It’s important to try to make the world better and to live a healthy life. Still, it can all be very depressing.
But, as Jean, one of the pillars of the St. Gertrude parish, said recently on her 85th birthday, “I tell ya, the reason you should celebrate your birthday is, it is exceedingly interesting to be alive.”
In a world that can seem to be going out of control, a world where a racist billionaire demagogue can rule the news cycle, I try to keep the example of Neil, Ben and Jean before me.
Rather than fall into fear, I try to embrace life. To look at life with wide eyes. To dance with life through all of its ups and downs. And I hope there is a lot more of life ahead of me.
After all, I’m only sixty-six and a half.
Patrick T. Reardon