Writing the last chapters


William Sloan Coffin interviewed in 2011 on “Prayer”

“No, growing old isn’t hard. It just takes longer.”

That was the great peace activist and minister William Sloan Coffin when he spoke some years back at Plymouth Congregational Church here in Fort Wayne.

Coffin passed away a few years ago. These days, now at 77, I’m reminded of his reflection on aging. A lot of the Doonesbury comic strip fans might not realize that Rev. Sloan who used to appear regularly in the strip was modeled after the Rev. Sloan Coffin.

Earlier, at a large peace conference at his famous Riverside church in New York. I joined another Midwestern journalist to interview Coffin in his office. As I found him at the Fort Wayne meeting, he was at ease and eager to share his thoughts. He played the perfect host for this conference.

I’ve certainly come to agree with Coffin on growing old. It does take longer. It takes me at least 15 minutes longer to walk my four miles in nearby Foster. It takes me longer to get ready for the hike. (No jogging while I recover from a heel fracture.) It takes longer for me to decide what to wear when my wife Toni and I go out for dinner or to a movie.

It takes longer to read a book. I think I might have to pause often to find my place. It takes longer to eat dinner. But it also seems to take longer to assimilate what another person has just told me in a conversation.

I’m not sure I’d agree with the poet who said, “Grow old along with me/The best is yet to be.”

I probably won’t follow Dylan Thomas’ admonition, “Do not go gentle into that good night/Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Whenever that dying of the light happens for me, in five years or 20, I doubt I’ll have any rage left in me. Unless of course the right-wingers take over the country.

Meantime, I consider myself very lucky. I’ve managed to stay in good health. I avoid eating red meat and don’t often have dessert. I do my push-ups and stretches on the living room carpet daily. I’m not much for going to a health club. I’d rather spend the time reading or writing than driving to and from a gym. But good health is a lot more than exercise.

I attend church services a couple times a month. (For Unitarians who don’t fear punishment after death that’s OK.) I go to various community meetings. Again, I sometimes skip them.

But I’m sure that the most important thing that sustains me is the support of my family, starting with my extraordinary spouse Toni but also with my daughter Robyn and son John and granddaughters.

I can’t neglect to mention the importance of my friends keeping me connected with the community and the world.

When I wrote editorials for the morning paper, people said, “Larry knows everybody in town.” That surely was an exaggeration. But not a lot. Anyway, that day is long past. But if I want to pass along an idea to a councilman, state official, U.S. senator, governor or mayor, I have no difficulty getting the person on the phone.

I do think that at 77 I’m a lot more at peace. I believe I’m calmer. Most nights I sleep like a baby. I’m more comfortable listening to other people without interrupting.

I’m not sure I’d rather be 67 or 57. I’ve found retirement a luxury most all the time. But a person needs to have patience with him or herself. As Rev. Sloan Coffin put it, “Growing old takes a little longer.”

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