Nobody wants to get old. Even old people don’t want to be old. I think it’s because old people are so extreme. That is to say, they are extremely proficient at what they do. After years of observance, they have becomes gurus of their way of life—each of them, masters of the virtues they practice. Every Wednesday, I play cards with a group of old ladies at my church, and today one of those ladies told me four times—four!—about how she gave an old Christmas tree to the church, and about how thankful the decorating committee was. Now, don’t get me wrong, I let people know about all my good deeds too, but I do it discretely. I join Facebook groups that celebrate service. Or, I make sure to give a reason when I have to turn down an invitation from a friend, because I’m doing a good deed. But you see they prompt me, I just use the opportunity slide my good image under the door of a broken plan. Maybe one day, with enough practice, I’ll flaunt my goodness from the rooftops like my bridge partner, but for now I’m too young and inexperienced to be so bold.
I started thinking of this because we watched a video in our Bible study today—the card ladies and me—and the leader told a story about an old woman named Mabel who had lived the last twenty-five years of her life in a nursing home, bedridden, blind, and alone. A pastor friend of the Bible study leader visited Mabel once or twice a week for years. One day he asked her, “Mabel, what do you think about all day.” And she said “I think about my Jesus…mostly I think about how good he’s been to me.” Mabel had so practiced the art of gratitude that in these last years of her life, under circumstances that would turn most hearts bitter or insane, she was filled with the sense that God had been good to her. In her old age Mabel had become an extremist of gratitude.
Of course you’ve figured out by now that this is not a post about aging at all, but about the practice of virtue, and its power to shape one’s character over the long haul.