I hear Sarah laughing and I cannot help but smile. Eavesdropping outside the tent, she listens in on what sounds like a joke. Well, it is a biblical joke, of sorts. Biblically Sarah is barren, ancient bad news for a woman. What’s a nonagenarian to do?
“After I have grown old…shall I have pleasure?”
Judging women for their literal lack of fertility sadly persists. That biological-clock-ticking thing. That your-eggs-are-maturing thing. But I prefer to think of Sarah’s story metaphorically.
Sarah is so full of life at ninety, her every fiber is tuned to laughter.
Sarah’s life at ninety is so full of pleasure, her every fiber smiles.
So, this brings me to my birthday. No!!! I am NOT about to become a nonagenarian. But I now carry certain cards in my wallet that I did not have before. Cards from the government. You know what I mean.
Yesterday, checking out at Michaels, unsolicited the clerk gave me a senior discount. ME!! WHAT?? It was $11 so of course, I took it. Who is going to argue with that?
But in my bipolar brain, Joani and senior citizen do not compute. Old is an adjective best reserved for my elders, not for me. Yes, I have God’s gray highlights in my hair but — fun and feathered with a streak of peacock blue!
I do not deny my age. I am proud and deeply grateful for every accumulated 365 days that I have been given. Aging is expansive. It advances not in straight lines but in spirals. In two steps back, three steps forward. In liquid rings rippling outward. I just want to tell you, that in all honesty at sixty-five, I have never felt more alive.
And I wish this for you. I wish this for everyone. I wish this for the whole wide world.
65 means packing an extra five minutes into every hour.
65 is just the right speed to go speeding down Interstate 95.
65 is five 13-year-olds bottled into one.
And that seems a very good way, to sum up these years, in multiples of 13.
So, what was 13-year old Joani up to?
1968. Eighth-grade valedictorian. Winner of the “Best in English” Award. Punished by the good sisters for my subversive purple prose, a short story I wrote about a nun and a priest falling in love. Being the smartest girl in the class, aka a smart-ass, can get you into trouble.
Just as true today, as it was back then.
And what was Joani doing at 26?
1981. Literally pregnant, on the edge of parenthood, I taught a Montessori classroom full of little people. Spelling things out with moveable alphabets. Sizing things up with counting beads. Working out the world with puzzle maps. Buffing and polishing tarnished things. Creating a little order out of everyday mess.
Housekeeping, just as important today, as it was back then.
And at 39?
1994. Three years of seminary done and mother of three. Ordained a deacon. Ordained a priest. Like Sarah, I laughed and laughed and laughed when I saw Reverend in front of my name. Reverend and Joani don’t quite compute. But I got a job, just the same. Assistant Rector, responsible for education cradle to the grave. Preacher, teacher, passable pastor.
This never boring, impossible vocation, I love even more today than I did when I had just begun.
And at 52?
2007. Just out of the wilderness. Dominion Hospital’s revolving door, I darken no more. Mania requires a little management. Discharged, I manage to get something like a job. Surreally, serving at what I call “Saint In Between”, I am back at seminary with a magic wand in my hand, inventorying books. I feel just about as low as I can go. But the wilderness is what you make of it. I become a book jockey at the front desk. I run a little used bookstore. I spend other people’s money on books. I am priest and pastor to struggling students, hearing their confessions, interpreting their dreams.
A ministry I still pursue, even more passionately out of the library, than I did when I was in.
And now at 65?
2020. Professional Priestess extraordinaire. Associate for Liturgy and Hilarity at Emmanuel-on- High. Avid Pedestrian, training to walk fourth half marathon in Antigua, (Yes, the exotic Caribbean Island of Antigua!) Getting braces, well Invisalign really, so my teeth will last till I am 105. A Dazzling Docent every Thursday at the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world. An aging hippy mom to rocking adults. Something like a grandmother (“Jamma”) to rocking young ones, with a new little rocker on the way (Zelda Quinn coming in March!) Buzzing around on Bumble, courting a nerdy, smart, funny, and adorable new friend.
“Now that I am old, shall I have pleasure?”
O my God, yes!! So grateful for these 65-365-days circling this world. So grateful to the God who wove me together, bipolar brain and all.
“Nothing is too wonderful for the Lord.”