I resolved some years ago to stop tracking birthdays, although I do have to calculate several times a year. Let’s see, 1954 to 2000 is 46, then add … what year is it again?
This birthday, number 68, would be unremarkable but for the fact that my father succumbed to pancreatic cancer at 68, so I’ve been a bit on edge. I’ve had a couple of health scares myself in recent years, including abdominal cancer, but everything — physically, at least — checks out at the moment, so gratitude was the order of the day.
On matters other than physical, we haven’t yet reached the point where my wonderful and attentive wife types “minder” into the search engine of Craig’s List and suddenly a large woman named Myra starts tracking my every move, gesturing wildly with a napkin when soup dribbles onto my chin, warning me about leaning too far over railings or confiscating my MTA card. “It’s for your own good, dear. I don’t want to have to go searching for you on the subway platform in Canarsie.”
Speaking of New York, we spent a recent weekend in Manhattan where I preached twice on Sunday morning at the venerable St. Bartholomew’s on Park Avenue, a place where the organ rumbles and the faithful lift their voices in song. I climbed up into the nosebleed pulpit and let it rip.
The lectionary has not been kind to preachers lately, but I managed to cobble together a homily from the epistle about Muscular Christianity — running the race, finishing the course — and then at the adult forum I talked about the new book, Passion Plays: How Religion Shaped Sports in North America, which includes a good bit of information about, well, Muscular Christianity. So that worked.
The highlight of the weekend, however, was dinner Saturday night with our son and the opportunity to meet his new girlfriend, the lovely and talented Christina. As the eldest son myself, I’ve been careful not to burden my elder son with expectations, but it was always impossible to miss how bright and capable he is.
We’ve had a couple of rough patches — rearing children is all about prayer, after all — but it would be difficult to overstate the incomparable joy of seeing our son finally coming into his own, exuding confidence, smiling and laughing easily, without inhibition. Although I didn’t conduct a formal caucus, I suspect the consensus at the table was that he was in love for perhaps the first time in his life.
What a delight! What a delight to enjoy God’s gift of love and companionship — for ourselves, obviously, but also for those we love. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday.
I have a friend, a crusty Vermonter, who has a standard answer when asked, “How ya’ doing today, Tom?” He smiles and says, “I’m on the right side of the grass.”
That seems like a pretty good response at 68. Life is good. I’m on the right side of the grass.
An Episcopal priest, Balmer is John Phillips Professor in Religion at Dartmouth College and the author of more than a dozen books, with commentaries appearing in newspapers across the country. He is a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.