George Burns once said something about how you know you’re getting older when you stoop to tie your shoes and, because it’ll take a while, you wonder what else you could do while you’re down there. Although another sign might be that as you’re taunting your teenage daughter from across a room, you stick out your tongue and pull a neck muscle. If you can’t even make playful faces without hurting yourself, it’s time to think more intently about retirement—about how and where you’ll finish your days.
I wouldn’t say I’ve reached “old age” just yet. However, I’ve crossed well into its borderlands of warning. It’s a place of mirrors. It’s a place where life swirls around you, and as it does, you see your younger self. Strangely, he’s constantly bewildered. He’s wondering why when he picks up a heavier object, his back hurts for days. He’s wondering why his body makes so many noises while in motion and how it hurts to sleep in. He’s wondering why he cannot do the things he used to do. He’s wondering how, in hell’s vast expanse, people younger than him—kids still playing video games—are being trusted to build submarines and hold authoritative positions in the United States government.
Aging’s borderlands are a strange and alien place. Things are different here.
Retirement has become a regular topic in casual conversations between me and Jennifer. I suppose that’s another sign. Admittedly, I instigate it when I begin feeling as though I can’t go on—that I can’t continue dealing with the messes that pastoral life brings. Whether or not this radically individualized age considers us villains, pastors continue steering into life’s dirtiest underbelly. We continue facing off with the grossest and most burdensome sins to provide help. And most often, because of confidentiality, we’re the only ones who know any given moment’s truest magnitude.
I’ve become convinced that pastors age like dogs. Because for decades, we’re constantly expelling physical and emotional energy to everyone in need, one pastoral year equals seven regular human years. That’s part of my concern. At such a pace, when a pastor retires, he’s far too spent to rest and enjoy it. He’s given everything he has to everyone else. I imagine it’s the same for police officers and anyone in the counseling profession.
All of these verities now spoken, there’s a better thought within reach. No matter one’s age, with each new year, comes the opportunity to learn. I’m most certainly a learner. Learners set goals. C. S. Lewis lassoed these thoughts into one, noting that we’re never too old to set a new goal. With that, as each year arrives, I follow his advice. I have a goal-filled future before me, no matter how long it may be. For one, my doctorate is right around the corner. After that, I intend to act in a movie. I don’t yet know how, but I will do it. First things first.
One of my smaller ongoing goals has been to continue trying new whiskeys. No matter the origin, no matter the distillery, good or bad drams, I intend to continue trying new whiskeys until I die. The opportunity and process have always brought me joy. Thinking back to George Burns, he was content to smoke cigars and drink whiskey his entire life. He lived to 100. I’m guessing there may be something to it. Either way, my closest friends know this love, and so they fan its enduring flame. For example, my good friend Joe (a fellow pastor in Iowa who knows what I’ve written so far is true) sent me an uplifting edition—the Cedar Ridge Small Batch edition. He called it a favorite, considering it a reasonably priced go-to whiskey in times of need. An Iowa-born whiskey, I wasn’t so sure. What’s that line from Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, something like, “I thought I was dead once, but it turned out I was just in Iowa”? Or maybe he said Nebraska. I’m getting older. With age comes the privilege of forgetfulness. Either way, and as it serves this rambling, both states have lots of corn—lots and lots of corn.
The Cedar Ridge emits corn. At 74% corn and 26% rye and barley, what would you expect? With that, its nose is an easily detectable sweetcorn concoction—dry but not unpleasant. A little water stirs up other things the Iowa soil can produce, namely warmed pear juice and mild oak.
The palate continues what the nose began. But given a few moments to learn, it reaches beyond its innate tendencies, adding mild sprinklings of vanilla, almonds, and dried peaches. The finish is simple and short, giving very little more than spiced caramel.
Joe was right. It’s not bad. Indeed, it can be a go-to whiskey at any particular moment along life’s way. Heaven knows there will be plenty of such moments for us pastors—moments when the only thing keeping an exhausted and well-aged preacher from walking out of worship before strangling a few choice parishioners is God’s equally necessary and go-to grace in his own life and the promise of go-to provisions in the clergyman’s whiskey cabinet at home.