Monday, April 30, 2007

The Secrets of a Long Life

I had dinner with friends last Wednesday night. Beth, one of the new folks at Mount Vernon Place, Nathan, one of our interns at the church, and I went to the Hermitage in Alexandria for dinner with some of the church members. Lois, Howard and Gilbert all live at the Hermitage, a large retirement community owned and operated by the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church. While I often enjoy breaking bread with friends around the dinner table, Wednesday was no ordinary night. It was rather extraordinary due to the individuals with whom we shared the evening.

Lois is 93. She is the Finance Committee Chairperson of our church, along with the treasurer of the Social Concerns/Serve Ministry Team and the treasurer of most of the Sunday school classes. She is a retired economist who spent most of her working years at the Department of Agriculture. She has a quick whit about her and is not afraid to say anything. She tells it just like it is. Lois was one of my loudest critics when I arrived at the church in the summer of 2005. I'll never forget the day she walked into a meeting and explained to the group that the reason she was late is because the nurse would not let her go because her blood pressure was so high, "knowing she was about to see her pastor." She is now one of my favorite people, and she has already volunteered to be the maid of honor at my wedding (no exact plans yet - don't worry - I'll announce that later).

Howard is 98. He has a dog named Rebel who is the center of his life. Some church members share how it was Rebel, not Howard's wife, who got to sit in the front seat of the car when they would go on trips. Howard is also long retired and is quick to share with you his secrets of the stock market. He is one of the most kind hearted individuals I have ever met. He has a generosity of spirit about him, and his constant prayer request is for "God to make me a better Christian" - though Howard's walk of faith is one we can all emulate. Howard and Lois are the best of friends - the kind of friends who tell each other exactly what they think, ride in to the church together (they both still drive into downtown DC), and spend a lot of time together.

Gilbert is 97. He is a retired attorney who spent most of his career at the Department of the Interior. He will not allow us to visit the Hermitage now without going to his apartment for a little while. He has nearly 100 ties -- both long ties and bow ties. He has memorabilia from his work at the Interior all over his walls. And, he loves showing pictures to visitors of his beloved wife who passed away several years ago. Gilbert taught Sunday school faithfully at the church until just recently. He loves to show the desk where the lessons are pulled together, and his work notes are filled with careful exegesis of different passages and texts. He is pretty remarkable.

Following dinner and apartment tours last week, we were joined by several other members of Mount Vernon Place. Richard is the adopted son of many of the members. He has a weekly routine of playing games at the Hermitage before taking ice cream to one of the member's homes, a woman I call "precious," in Northern Virginia. On Wednesday, the games and the ice cream were brought to us. We all played several card games, with the only one I had heard of before being bridge. There was a homemade board game brought, too, called "Waa Hoo." The games belong to Ruth D. a phenomenal 91 year old who is the biggest cheerleader Mount Vernon Place has ever had. She is the one who set up the card tables on Wednesday night, brought in extra decks of cards, and taught us all how to play the games. She is amazing!

And somewhere in the midst of our evening, I learned a few of the secrets to living a long life.

1) Take time to play. Play games. Play with your grandchildren. Play with your friends.

2) Eat ice cream with friends, and add a few Girl Scout Cookies on top if you have them.

3) Invest your time, energy and resources in a church. All of these individuals have pictures of their Sunday school class on display in their apartments. Their church has been the center of their lives for the last 40 - 60 years. They have and they continue to faithfully support it with all that they have. They have watched it swell to over 4500 members and shrink to less than 100 members. Still, they keep coming. They keep studying the Bible together. They keep praying together. They keep playing together. They keep worshipping together.

4) And while I did not ask her for her secret, I think Lois would tell you that one of the secrets to a long life is to find a favorite restaurant and to go there every day for lunch. Take a book with you. Drink a martini with Beefeaters gin before you eat anything. Follow the martini with a bowl of soup and then eat whatever you want.

It's a good life -- a good, long life!

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