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Old Men Dream Dreams

Submitted by Barth Weistart - August 10, 2007

Hey, I'm seventy (70) years old and can't believe it.

A couple weeks ago I was reading a book which had a story about a Lithuanian "old woman" who, in the 1970's, was sent to jail for a year by Russian courts for teaching children scripture verses in preparation for their first communion. Toward the end of the story, the author referred to the 70 year "old woman". Something in the back of my mind seemed to stir at what the author had said. But nothing much surfaced so I passed the thought off into the storage area of my mind.

Then it happened. I was talking to my cousin Bonnie Wagner and telling her all the things I thought she ought to be doing. Actually I was chiding her because she has so many projects lined up to do for her kids, church, and other people that she will probably never have time to die. Bonnie responded with "I get tired. You know I'm almost 70". WHAT! What a cutting thing to say. She is a few months younger than me even though she graduated a year ahead of me in high school. We have reminded each other of this all through our lives depending on whose advantage it is to recall the facts. She was saying since she was almost 70, I already had to be 70. At least that is what I heard. After we hung up our phones, I started figuring and sure enough Bonnie was right. I was 70 and if I lived in Lithuania they would refer to me as the "old man".

I can remember hurrying to cross the Illinois Central tracks so I wouldn't be late for grade school. In the summer we would climb the Jumbo and slide down on a piece of tin. Winter was hockey on the old brick pond using tree limbs as hockey sticks. Then came jobs as delivering papers, washing windows, delivering groceries, stoking stoves with coal to keep the downtown stores warm and the old standby, mowing lawns before the advent of power mowers. This couldn't have happened 60 years ago- Could it?

It seems like only last year that Dave Gutherz, Jim Ringe, Ollie Turchi, and Duane Schook would be waiting for me to get off work from Leslies Shoe Store so we could all go to Toluca to bowl and do other things. We were from the 50's. We had our crew cuts, used our Butch Wax, and would drive to Normal for hair cuts because the barbers there knew how to cut hair. We legitimately discussed who was best- Buddy Holly, the new guy Elvis Presley, Fats Domino or others. I remember the day Buddy Holly died. There were reports that his plane was missing, then some question as to whether he was on it, then, yes, he was on the flight, and then the report that Buddy Holly was dead. We all wondered what would happen to rock and roll.

Listen to me. I'm writing about the things that only prove that I'm 70. If you think about it, I was born in 1937 and lived through the 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's, and now the 2000's. That gives a perspective as to what being 70 means. I often receive e-mails and have seen others on MinonkTalk that start out by saying that if you are 50 or 60 years old you will remember.... a number of old time facts will be listed. Usually I just send the lists on to others to read. Come to think about it there are very few of those e-mails that say- if you are 70, and none for 80 and 90 year olds. There is probably no one around who remembers the facts that far back.

There is a fascinating book titled Ecclesiastes that is well worth reading. The book reminds us that "there is no remembrance of earlier things" and "there will be for them no remembrance among those who will come later still". Isn't that true! We go through life doing such important things and what was so important becomes less so as we get older. We don't have knowledge of all that happened in earlier generations unless it was one of the few facts that got recorded in a history book. We repeat successes and failures of earlier times. Generations that follow have no advantage over us. They will repeat what has happened in our times.

I've heard that the hardest part about growing old is remembering when we were young. Someone wrote that "Your old men will dream dreams; Your young men will see visions". This applies to us as we get older. We remember the things we did in the past. Some haunt us and others we remember with pride and often brag about them. Be honest! Once we reach 70 and are retired, few of us have visions of great accomplishments for our lives. We may think of vacations to Europe or a winter retirement home in Florida. The young are different. They don't have that much of life to recall, yet. They are filled with visions of what they will do with their lives. It may include being a good mother, owning a bank, becoming a diplomat or devoting ones life to others in health care, the ministry, or child care. The world is ahead and the young should have visions.

"Grandchildren are the crown of old men". And I might add grandmothers too. I know of grandchildren who fly across the country to spend the summer with their grandparents. My daughters spent several summers with my dad in Minonk. He often told me how he appreciated being able to spent time with his granddaughters. My daughters remember those visits and still tell funny stories of their trips. Some people don't have this "crown" because they don't have grandchildren or family situations don't allow close companionship. I feel that a big part of our fascination with grandchildren is that they are the next generation as we once were and we like to see ourselves in them.

Most people are able to cope with the circumstances of life. We don't know whether life will be love or hatred, anything awaits us. It is the same for all. Most events are beyond the control of men. Every possible circumstance (happy or unhappy) can face us. What we do know is that God has arranged what will take place in one's life. It's not so important what happens as how we handle what does happen.

We do remember our youth. Maturing people often live vicariously through members of a future generation. We look at the young people and cheer them on. They are our hope. To the young we say enjoy your days before old age and poor health arrive. I can remember in high school and college making promises to myself of things that I would do when I had more time, like after retirement. My big pronouncement to youth is "DON'T WAIT". Remember your Creator today and strive after what is in your heart. When you get old, time seems to speed up and those things you've saved generally don't get done. So young people, follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes as long as they are upright and moral.

Any rational parent loves their children. And these parents do not set out to do their children harm. It sometimes seems to young people that parents aren't acting in their best interest and on occasion parents push too hard trying to do right. I'm sure this same scenario passes from one generation to the next. Compromise is often needed. I did try to follow my folk's wishes. I never fully understood why my parents decided as they did until I lived as long as they had. My experiences and maturing age showed me the truth of their decisions. I fully expect that my grandparents and their parents had similar discussions and enlightens. History does repeat itself. So young people, we are for you! We were young once and often dream of our youth. Consider what we have to offer. And hopefully someday we'll all see eye to eye.

Just a few hours ago I took my car into a garage to have some work done. The driver bringing me home commented how fast life was going. He mentioned this several times during our trip. He had flown 20 years for Flying Tiger Airlines. My first flight to Europe was on one of the last five Super Constellations that Flying Tigers flew so we had a lot in common to talk about. The Flying Tigers were a non-military air group that flew planes supplied by the military over the Himalayas into China to fight the Japanese air force at the start of WWII. My driver flew in the Vietnam area. He received a decoration for being under attack while flying in a load of portable toilets. He wrote a book about flying and is working on others. He was 73 and I felt we were living in each others shadows. He commented that he had things he wanted to do but they took longer to do as he grew older. And life sure has gone by fast.

David Brooks a columnist for the New York Times reviewed a book I'd like you to listen to. "The woman begins by recalling the stages of her life: the misty days of girlhood; the precious years when she was raising her young; the rewarding times when she and her children were adults together and companions.

But then something changed.

'I do not know when the change came, nor do they, if indeed they realize it at all,' she writes. 'There was a time when I was of their generation; now I am not. I cannot put my finger on the time when old age finally claimed me. But there was a moment when my boys were more thoughtful of me, when they didn't come to me anymore with their perplexities, not because I had what is called failed, but because they felt that the time had come when I ought to be spared every possible worry. So there is a conspiracy of silence against me in my household. You count the number of your years by the way your daughter watches your steps; and you see your infirmities in your son's eyes.'"

"She describes living in a different dimension. She sees and understands, but her counsel is never sought and she has no ground upon which to act. 'We have learned then that we can't help our children to lead their lives one bit better. There is not one single stone we can clear before their feet."'

"The book is a lament from a person put on a shelf, bound by convention and by the smothering concern of others not to exert any power on the world, even while seeing more clearly than ever the way power can and cannot be exerted."

Do any of you relate to this book review? Do you feel it was written for your situation? Have you had these thoughts many times? WELL, the book called Autobiography of an Elderly Woman was published in 1911 by a 37 year old woman using the voice of her mother. That would be your great grandmother's generation. Why does it seem so approbate today? I know: "for there will be no remembrance among those who will come later still".

Yes, I'm seventy. I can remember when I felt that I had great endurance and strength. Of all the senses, I decided that sight was the most important. Well my hair has passed the gray stage and is now white. And I need glasses to read. I guess I'm forced to admit that I'm an old man not only by definition in Lithuania but also by looks and health. But when did it happen and how did it happen? I just don't know. What I do know is that as soon as I finish writing this article I'm going to immediately and purposely forget how old I am. Many old acquaintances are gone or moved on with their lives. We wake up in a new world every day. Adapting and adjusting is what keeps life interesting and worth living. And "no" we wouldn't have it any other way.