I read somewhere once that, by the time we are 19 years old, give or take a couple of years, we are who we are for the rest of our lives. The essence of who we are and who we will be for the rest of our lives is permanently formed. All that is added, from that point on, is experience and, hopefully, maturity.
If this is true, it does explain some of our thoughts and behaviors.
For example, a couple of years ago, our church softball team was in danger of losing a game by forfeit. They needed one other player to be able to field a team and not experience the loss by forfeit.
I, of course, volunteered. I had played church league softball in the past — first base, in fact. I was able to handle the hot grounders and the wild throws from short stop and third base with ease.
While I was no home run hitter, I consistently arrived safely at first base or beyond over three-quarters of the time. Of course, that was then.
I was assigned to play catcher and should had gotten a clue that I was no longer 19 when I had trouble just bending my knees in order to get into something resembling a catcher’s stance. The difficulty in getting out of the stance was another clue. But, being 19 in my mind, I shoved the difficulties aside and played the game.
When it came time to bat, I discovered that I could still hit the ball. However, my best hit — my very best hit — sailed lazily over second base, barely clearing the outstretched mitt of the second baseman. Formerly, that ball would have cleared the center fielder.
Fortunately, the center fielder had to run toward the infield quite a distance to field the ball so I arrived at first base safely.
Later in the game, I powerfully smacked a pitch which, unfortunately, was a hot grounder toward the third baseman. When I was 19, I was pretty fast and a sure bet to make first, so I poured it on.
“Pouring it on” means something different coming from a 55-plus-year-old, overweight, out of shape, out of practice, former 19-year-old.
I ran as fast as I could (remembering those nightmares when one is being chased by a vicious beast while trying to run in molasses) and noticed that my body was shifting uncontrollably.
I can only attribute the ensuing loss of balance to a center of gravity that somehow had been relocated over the years. The result was an ungraceful crash and burn somewhere between home plate and first base.
Although my body was unhurt (until the next morning and for several days afterward), my pride was destroyed. The team members ran out to where I was lying, looking like Beetle Bailey after an encounter with Sgt. Snorkel, and did an admirable job of suppressing their grins.
No photographs ever appeared to complete my humiliation, and I gained experience and a morsel of maturity.
That was the night I became a fan and left the playing to those whose bodies were closer to being 19.
But, on the inside, I still don’t see why I can’t run and jump and do all the other things that my mind says I can and my body says I better not.
The upside to experience and maturity is that we settle down. The downside is that we get settled.
We avoid risks and challenges. We protect ourselves and our pride. We become the grumpy old men and the gossipy old women that criticize and castigate the younger generation.
At best, we watch from the sidelines and cheer encouragement to those who still are willing to push the envelope. But, like concrete, we allow ourselves to get settled and inflexible.
Settling down is not a bad thing. But I’m not so sure about being settled.
I met a man not long ago who is training for a half-marathon. He is in his 70s and has chosen not to be settled.
I also met a man who will be 84 soon, and he knows his time is limited by an illness. Yet, he has decided to try to meet some people he has always wanted to see face to face.
There’s a man in my church who, at age 69, completed a grueling clinical pastoral education course, became a certified chaplain, took on several new responsibilities, and finished a doctorate in pastoral counseling — all within the last couple of years.
A song by the Atlanta-based country duo, Sugarland, titled “Settlin’” says this: “I ain’t settling for just getting by / I’ve had enough so-so for the rest of my life / Tired of shooting too low, so raise the bar high / ’Just enough’ ain’t enough this time.”
I have enough experience and maturity to know that there are certain limitations. But there’s still enough of the 19-year-old left in me to recognize that some limitations can be challenged and even pushed back.
I don’t intend to play softball with the young Turks or take up full-contact cage fighting.
Maybe skydiving. President Bush the First went skydiving when he was 80.
Go back to Africa, maybe.
Take up karate again, perhaps.
I’ll have to give it some thought — I just know that there is much too much of my life that has become settled. I am way too young for that.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec,org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]