When I’m 64 was released as a track on the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album in 1967, but it was actually written long before that. It is credited to the songwriting team of Lennon/McCartney, but Paul wrote it by himself when he was just 16 years old. The song was not particularly popular as it sounded like it was written for older people than most Beatles fans, so it was used solely as a back-up acoustic number in case the power went out in the middle of a concert. The song was resurrected for the album in 1966 when Paul’s father was in fact turning 64.
When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?
Did Paul McCartney at 16 when he wrote this (or even at 24 when he recorded it) have any idea what his life would be like when he turned 64? Did he have any idea what would happen in the years leading up to that day? I’m sure he did not.
But this blogpost isn’t about Paul, it’s about me. I’m 64 today. It’s not a particularly significant milestone, as we put more emphasis on birthdays that end in 0’s and next year’s 65th birthday will make me officially a senior citizen. Yikes! This could be just another birthday but for this song that makes me feel as if it was intended for me — even though I was only 7 at the time it was written!
Would I have had any idea of the twists and turns, turmoils and triumphs that would bring me to this day when I was 16 or 24? Of course I did not. At 16, I was 3/4 of the way through what was a wonderful high school experience on the campus of Arsenal Tech HS in Indianapolis. Loving both the academics and the extra-curriculars, who was thinking about the future? Certainly I was not thinking past college. And at 24, I was married and expecting my first child. Who could think beyond that all-consuming event? Not I!
For however we imagine our futures — or not — the only certainty is that our future will be vastly different than what we pictured. I happen to believe that’s a very good thing. For it is the unexpected and unimagined that shape and give meaning to our lives.
Would I have imagined that …
I would marry young (at 21) and divorce after 25+ years of marriage? Never.
I would go back to school at age 45? Yes, maybe. I loved school and was an excellent student. But seminary? Not on your life! Apparently, God had a plan for mine.
Would I be able to go back to school after 24 years — full time for 4 years — while also working as an associate minister full-time, newly single, and raising 3 teen-agers? To keep my GPA up to satisfy the requirements of my full-ride scholarship? I did, but it nearly killed me (a slight exaggeration upon reflection) and when people ask me how I did it, my answer is: I don’t have to know how I did because I never have to do it again!
Would I have then imagined the enormous and positive changes in my life when I was ordained into ministry at age 49? Back when I was home with toddlers on a tough day of spit-up and tantrums, I would imagine myself off somewhere being rich and glamorous. I never got there or even close. But it’s been a lifetime since I even thought either would be important. A really good lifetime.
Would I have imagined that I’d be writing this while sharing home office space with that tall, quiet red-headed kid who was my friend in 5th grade? That tall former-redhead who is the love of my life? Who knew? Who could possibly have known? Apparently only David’s mother, who when I saw her again after 40+ years said, I always knew the two of you were meant for each other. No, Mary Jane, not really — we were 10 and David used to flip staples into my thick head of naturally curly hair to see if they’d stick here. They did. It’s a stretch to call that love. I’m pretty sure it was the early stages of Alzheimer’s talking, but I loved her sentiment. I do know that he loves me now, even though the curls are getting grayer every day.
Would I have imagined my 3 children? Oh, I thought I would have children, but who has the slightest idea of the people they will be? From those first days home from the hospital to these adults they have become? Any dream would pale in comparison. Could I have known how much love I could give and how much more I would be given in return? No mother knows. It just happens and lasts forever.
Would I have imagined that I would out-live my eldest child? No. If only that was a bad dream that I could wake up from. Sadly, it is not. I am grateful that life is no longer difficult for him, that his struggles are over, and he is at peace. I will always miss him and long for the years that did not happen for him.
Could I have known that two bright and handsome young men would come into my life when David and I got married? One is recently graduated — a dentist. The other making his way (quite successfully) through med school. We don’t talk about being step-anythings, it’s more about knowing you have enough love in your heart to share it with the next person who comes into your family’s life. Add a son and daughter-in-law, and the family widens and deepens. Vice-President Joe Biden recently said that his mother always told him that the best thing that can happen as a parent is for your children to grow to be better people than you were. David and I are watching that happen.
And then there are grandchildren. One of God’s most precious gifts. We are blessed to have two darling orange-headed boys who bring a smile to my face just thinking about them. On this day of my 64th birthday, my oldest grandson will turn 2. Sharing his birthday will make every one of mine more special. Believe everything you’ve ever heard about the sheer joy of being a grandparent. Believe it all and more because words are inadequate in trying to describe it.
I don’t know what I thought 64 would look like. What it would feel like. It’s been said that my generation — Baby Boomers — think we’re the first people to give it serious thought. It’s also been said that we think we will revolutionize retirement. That we don’t see ourselves on the beach or in a rocking chair living out our days. We want to be purposeful. Relevant. And now that I have more leisure time than since I was playing with my dolls, I do think about that. 6 months into retirement, I kick back more than I’ve allowed myself in decades. David and I are blessed to both have pensions, and though we live modestly and have made adjustments to our new level of income, we are more than comfortable. I’m healthy, take no medications, and my blood pressure is low enough that nurses always take it at least twice to make sure my blood’s pumping. Give me an entire day to be creative in my small but serviceable kitchen, and I’m happy. Give me good enough weather to take a long walk with our dog, Indy, and time to read a book, and everybody’s happy.
But there’s got to be more out there, doesn’t there? I’m 64, but I’m also only 64. Paul McCartney imagined his days played out in this way:
I could be handy, mending a fuse
When your lights have gone
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride
Doing the garden, digging the weeds
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?
Silly man. We know he’s still rocking it to adoring fans all over the world. But this is about me and where I need to be. Where is that place God calls me? Frederick Buechner calls it the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. For now, it’s working for peace and justice in our country. It’s about working to give victims of violence a voice and reclaiming the values Jesus taught us in loving even our enemies and of putting down our weapons. I’m grateful that my partner in life joins me in this work. And for as much as the work means to us both, we will be happy to give it up and move on — on that glorious day when gun violence is no longer the cause of 88 deaths every day. When children no longer endure lockdown drills and drive-by shootings and live to be the ripe old age of 64 like me. Don’t get me started. Another blog post for another day.
I thank God for my life to this point. For what I imagined that came true and grace for what did not. For all the unexpected twists and turns, turmoils and triumphs. I thank God for being with me every step of the way and for the many people who have been part of these 64 years loving, encouraging, and challenging me. I’m grateful for how I have loved, how I have been loved, and how I will enlarge that love to include another of God’s children.
Pastor. Parent. Activist. And forever a child of God.