“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”
“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”
(from “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland~Lewis Carroll)
The boys were ecstatic! They ran to meet their mother as she entered the door bearing her boxes. “We can stand on our heads! Grandpa showed us how!” I wasn’t sure how my daughter would take the news, so I stood looking down at my feet as she digested the news. When I glanced at her again, she was looking at me with a mixture of disbelief and worry on her face. “What?” I asked, much like an errant child myself. “They were doing somersaults and cartwheels, along with a half handstand or two and it seemed that I could be helpful.” Her next words hit me right between the eyes. “Dad! Don’t you think you’re a little old to be standing on your head?” The exasperation in her voice wasn’t because her boys would now be standing on their own heads perpetually, kicking the little girls as they passed, nor even because of the shoe prints which would make their way onto her walls in the very near future. She thought that I was too old to be doing something that I had done as a child! She wanted me to act my age!
Can I let you in on a secret? She was right. And if any of you breathe a word to her, I’ll deny that I was the one who wrote those words. But, she is right. I am too old. And also a little heavier than the last time I did that, over twenty years ago. Okay…a lot heavier. The sixty pounds or so that I have gained since my super skinny days of yore were never meant to be borne by my still-thin neck. I don’t think I did any permanent damage, but I suspect that I might want to stay upright for the foreseeable future. I’m not a kid anymore.
“I wish things were like they used to be.” Almost everyday, I hear the phrase from someone else. Whether it’s someone bemoaning the changes in music, be it worship music, or popular music, or even country music, the complaint is the same. “I just don’t like this new stuff!” Teachers complain that the kids aren’t like they were when they started teaching. My old classmates wish for the days of carefree wandering as children, in neighborhoods and downtown stores. The political opinions from folks inundate my reading material, as they yearn for leaders from the past (the same ones that made us miss the leaders before them). What we used to have is always better than what we have right now. We don’t like change.
I made the phone call today. I’ve been putting it off for months, hoping that something would happen to make it unnecessary. I don’t like change either, you see. I’ve had the same phone number for thirty-six years, acquiring my very first telephone service at the tender age of…well, never mind…I was young. The phone number is burned permanently into my memory. It is only the second home phone number I’ve had in my life, and the first was my parents’. For thirty-six years, I’ve been able to tell people, “I’m in the book. Just give me a call.”
Today, I called the old phone company and told them to disconnect the telephone. Almost no one we know calls us on that number anymore. Four or five times a day, we answer it, only to hang it up immediately, when the telemarketer begins his or her spiel. Nobody we know. The young lady at the other end must be growing used to it by now, but she gasped as she looked at the records. “Mr. Phillips, you’ve had this line since 1977! Are you sure you want us to disconnect it?” I wanted to say, “No,” and hang up, but you can’t hold on to the past forever. Did I tell you that I don’t like change?
Now, like the lisping Gopher from Walt Disney’s “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree”, I’ll be forced to say, “Here’s my card. I’m not in the book, you know.” After thirty-six years of being in the book, you won’t find my name there. It’s a funny feeling; akin to Linus losing his security blanket. Of course he knows he doesn’t really need it; it just helps him to feel better when life gets a little too intense.
Life changes and we go on. I don’t wear bell bottom trousers or platform shoes anymore, nor do I miss them. Time moves on. I don’t ask my father for permission to stay out late, nor do I count on him to provide my housing and meals. Time moves on. I can’t eat all the food in sight without gaining an ounce, as I once did. Time moves on.
And so too, must we. For my part, I will leave headstands and home telephones in the past and move on to the future. It’s not the same, but that’s the way it has always been. No generation – ever – has been left with its practices unscathed, as they moved on. Change has been the way of mankind since the beginning of time. Oh, there have been periods when it appeared that not all of life was as topsy-turvy as it has been over the last couple of centuries, but I can guarantee you that even in the Dark Ages, some old man somewhere said, “We’ve never done it that way before!” Time has always moved on.
Facts must be faced. Alice’s nonsense poem above is not as much nonsense as you might think, since it illustrates a common fault in aging men such as I. We desire to hang onto our youth, when it is long gone. I suppose it is time to leave the childish things behind and move on ahead to what lies ahead. I might be surprised at the delights that are still to come.
Turning from the past, I’m headed for a future that is still just as full of promise as it was when I left home all those years ago. True, it’s a future without headstands and even without a telephone on the lamp table, but with my smart-phone in hand and standing on my own two feet, I’m moving on ahead.
I can do this!
I bet you can too. And, if you find that you need a little encouragement, a little moral support, just give me a call. No, maybe you should drop me an email.
I’m not in the book, you know…
“Age is a very high price to pay for maturity.”
(Tom Stoppard~British playwright)
“When I was a child, I spoke, and thought, and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”
(I Corinthians 13:11~NLT)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.
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“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,