I’m 56 years old now, and it’s been more than ten years since I was forced to come to grips with the reality of aging. On that day so long ago, Tonya and I took our two boys (Ryan and Royce) to Carowinds theme park in Charlotte, North Carolina. Ryan was 14 years old at the time and Royce was 10.
It was July 4th, a day I look back upon now as being my personal Independence Day from thinking that I was still the man I had once been. Whereas I had always been able to ride every ride in Carowinds without any problems, I only managed to ride two that day. I had planned to ride a few more, but things didn’t work out as I intended.
My first ride that hot, summer day was a deathtrap known as The Drop Zone. For this ride, I got strapped into a seat that went straight up vertically into the stratosphere. Then the seat paused for a few seconds at the top to give me time to survey the entire landscape of the United States of America, after which it dropped me back down at about a million miles per hour to where I had started. That straight-line “death drop” transferred half my stomach into my brain. I don’t mind telling you that when I got off that ride I felt very blessed to still be alive. Ryan and Royce, on the other hand, who had ridden the ride as well, couldn’t get to the next ride fast enough.
Well, it wasn’t too long afterward that we came upon a roller coaster called The Carolina Cobra. Much to my surprise, Tonya, who hadn’t ridden The Drop Zone, headed straight for the ride’s entrance. From a few feet behind her, I called out, “Are you going to ride this one?” She answered, “Yes, it doesn’t look too bad.” The ride’s main feature was an upside-down turn, which did seem to be relatively harmless. So, the boys and I joined her in line.
Tonya and I ended up in a cart by ourselves, while Ryan and Royce ended up in another one. Needless to say, when the ride was over, they were in far better condition than we were. Actually, Tonya and I made it through the first half of the ride okay. Unfortunately for us, though, the ride’s slogan was “It strikes twice.” That meant that once the coaster had completed its course going forward, it ran it again backward. It was that backward run, which didn’t allow the rider to see what was coming, that got us. Just as The Drop Zone had taken my stomach, The Carolina Cobra took my equilibrium. As for Tonya, she didn’t feel much better than I did as we staggered off the ride together. Ryan and Royce, on the other hand, were on to the next ride at breakneck speed.
It’s very humbling when you are forced to admit that you aren’t the man you used to be. Of course, I didn’t really need a couple of Carowinds rides to teach me my new limitations that day. The fact was, I had been taking that course for a while. And I’m still enrolled in it. My joints ache. My back is dicey. My right knee is a bit suspect. You get the idea. Despite the absurd double-standard upon which the entire theory of evolution rests, science’s second law of thermodynamics states that everything winds down rather than up. In other words, things move from order to disorder. I assure you that my body is in perfect compliance with this law. As a matter of fact, I’ve now reached the point where I’m doing good just to be able to drive to Carowinds, let alone ride any of the rides there.
I think I can truthfully say, though, that I have successfully begun the process of making my peace with my advancing age. Sadly, that’s a process that many people still need to begin. I call it the “Peter Pan complex” because these folks simply refuse to grow up. The women are trying to hang on to their looks, and the men are trying to hang on to the vitality of their youth. How sad it all is. Furthermore, it is such a starkly different attitude toward aging than the one that is presented in the Bible. Consider the following passages (all from the N.K.J.V.):
The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, If it is found in the way of righteousness. (Proverbs 16:31)
The glory of young men is their strength, And the splendor of old men is their gray head. (Proverbs 20:29)
They (the righteous) shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing. (Psalm 92:14)
Now tell me, do any of these passages paint getting old in a bad light? Of course not. Losing your physical strength doesn’t mean that you lose your spiritual strength. To the contrary, the older you get, the more spiritual strength you should have. We make such fools of ourselves when we try to keep up with the appearances and demands of youth. I recall being struck by that thought as I sat there suspended in space in my seat on The Drop Zone, looking down upon the people below as they appeared to be about the size of ants. I thought, “Why have I done this? Have I lost my mind? What am I trying to prove here?”
So, I guess you could say that I had something of an epiphany that day in Charlotte. I realized that my days of riding the “big” rides were over. But I was okay with that then, and I’m still okay with it. I always thought that line, “Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse” was stupid anyway. As the Bible says, there is a glory and a splendor in gray hairs. I just need to remember that every time I see my barber sweeping so much of my glory and splendor up off the floor.