Waiting on hold with a supply vendor, the Home Depot ProDesk associate I’ll call Tammie asked us if we were retired. Keith and I had decided to replace our disintegrating treated-wood deck with a composite, but supplies of building materials had been disrupted due to COVID-19—thus the call to the vendor. Tammie appeared to be about our age, a Baby Boomer.
“Re-missioned,” Keith said in answer to her question. “We don’t use the word retirement.”
“Oh, missionaries, how nice.”
“Not missionaries,” I said, “but we do have new missions.”
In the autumn of my life, my mission has been to make peace with past deck-holes, replacing them with hope shared with others.
In Peace in the Last Third of Life: A Handbook of Hope for Boomers, retired pastor Paul Zahl, one of the founders of Mockingbird, wrote: “The purpose of this book is to offer some peace and hope for the last third of your life.”
Readers will find no discussion about exercise and diet, the benefits of outside interests and community service, or warnings against self-medicating alcohol consumption or a sedentary lifestyle. Peace and hope come from healing the wounds of one’s past. We all have those deck-holes and tend to evade them, at great cost.
According to Zahl, the two keys to healing are:
1. A good, intentional listener and
2. The supernatural power of God.
This second key is greater than the first, because only God can deliver us.
Two days, several emails and phone calls later, we finalized our order for composite deck boards. I drove to Home Depot and handed Tammie a sizable check, which had to be processed at Customer Service. Transaction completed, Tammie and I walked back to the Pro Desk exit.
“You seem happy with your life,” she said, “and seem very sharp, I mean compared to some people.” I sensed she wasn’t really talking about me or “some people.” So, I listened, because you never know what someone might need to say.
“I don’t do anything,” she continued. “Oh, I work and all and have my husband, children, and grandchildren. But after work I just go home and watch Netflix. I should be doing something. Read. That’s what I should do. Read. Do you read?”
She doesn’t think she’s enough, I thought. Oh boy, do I know that deck-hole.
Tammie didn’t say anything for several seconds, so I answered her question. “Yes, I read, mostly in support of my mission. But I’ve also returned to enthusiasms I didn’t have time for during the “work-kids” years. I’m playing flute again and support both music and women’s ministries at church. We women have a private Facebook group, so we can share praises, concerns, and prayer requests—another way for us to encourage one another and express hope.” As I rattled on, the thought of doing God’s work brought a smile to my entire face. Perhaps a missionary after all.
Tammie followed me outside toward the parking lot and asked, “Have you always been this nice?”
I took off my mask. “Oh, I’m not that nice, believe me, I’m not. But I enjoy sharing the gifts I’ve been given.” And planting seeds. “Thank you so much for your help, Tammie. Peace be with you.”
Later, while reading Mary Zahl’s “Dedicated Listening” in Appendix One of her husband’s book, I realized I hadn’t been that nice to Tammie either, because I hadn’t been a good listener. A conversation isn’t listening, Mary Zahl stated. Telling my story in response to hers directed attention back to me and away from her.
For this Boomer, awareness is the first step toward replacing a deck-hole with the composite of peace and hope.
Post Script: Yesterday was All Saints Day, a celebration of the faithfully departed. Today is my father’s 97th birthday. He departed this earth nearly twenty-five years ago, and I remembered him yesterday—my mother, too, who passed away in February. The Prelude for yesterday’s services at Bethany Lutheran Church was J.S. Bach’s Arioso, the Sinfonia from Cantata No. 156. Although our organist Carolyn and I do not appear on screen, start at the very beginning of the streaming, turn up the volume, and listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AS2PfoLX4ec.
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