By Fr. Jim Bartelme
Seventy. Sounds like a fairly big number. Mark Twain described it as “three score years and ten, the Scriptural statute of limitations — the expected lifespan we are granted according to the Bible.” Like Twain, I am not yet ready to be a “time-expired man.” He lived another five years. I am not sure what 70 is supposed to look like – or act like. People often tell me “Oh, you look so young! I thought maybe you were in your 50s.” (So maybe 70 is the new 50? I don’t feel all that old. Well except in my knees when they hurt, but that goes back decades. I am a little more careful in my movements at times, haven’t fallen on my butt (or hips) – yet. I have scheduled one last motorcycle trip for this summer to New Mexico and then up to South Dakota. Then I have decided that I will I sell the cycle and “retire” from riding after more than 26 years. It will be hard at first, but time to let it go for other things.
I like to think and tell people I’m really not so old, I have just been around for awhile, and seen a few things. The 1950s were pretty quiet (only had to worry about the “red scare,” but that was left to the adults). The 1960s were a great time, from the election of John F. Kennedy, but then his assassination three years later. The Civil Rights movement and Dr. King, and his murder, followed by Bobby Kennedy and his. Trying times. But then – men walked on the moon! (By now, 50 years later, we were going to be on Mars, or have huge space station colonies in orbit. I might have been on one!) The ‘70s took me through college, a couple attempts at teaching, finally the seminary. (God does indeed work in mysterious ways!) Ordained in the Diocese of Pueblo, Colorado, after seven years I returned “home.” Time seems to have both stood still and flown by at various times. I retired from “active” ministry almost five years ago, but not from ministry.
I seem to think a lot more about mortality lately – my mortality. While I am Type 2 diabetic (thanks, genes!), I am in pretty good health. My parents lived to be 83 and 84-plus, my maternal grandmother was 101-plus, and several great aunts and uncles made it into their 90s. So I have that going for me, but still 15 to 20 years more isn’t so long a time anymore. I hope I make it, but one never knows. I think of my childhood pastor, Fr. Tony Fisher, at his celebration of his 65th (!) ordination jubilee. Said he still gets up in the morning and looks ahead – he just can’t see as far as he used to. (He lived to be 94!)
It is a good thing to look back on life, for unless we know from whence we came, we can’t tell where we are going. I hope in these 70 years I have learned a few things and maybe even gained a bit of wisdom along the way. I hope I have drawn closer to God. I hope I have accomplished some good things along the way, but most of that we may never know. I hope I keep hope alive! I hope things can get back to some sense of “normal” sooner rather than later, so I can get a little more involved in things again. I hope I can just do the best I can in whatever comes along.
The wonderful Wisconsin writer Jerry Apps sums things up so well at the end of his book “Simple Things,” on learning to appreciate the simple things in life. I can certainly relate to some of his wisdom:
“Silence … Never give up hope … Friends and family … To appreciate what you have even when you know others have more. (I / we are so blessed!) Be optimistic. Tomorrow will be a better day; next year will be better yet. (Yes, there’s the key!) Think before you act. (OK, I have some work to do on that.) Don’t talk until you have something to say. (Ditto) Maintain a sense of humor, even when times are tough … Life is like a river. There are twists and turns, quiet spots and rapids, deep pools and shallow flats. But a river is always moving, always the same, yet always different … When we forget our histories, we forget who we are … Appreciate the power of a nap … (Yes!) Remember to have fun … And keep things simple.”
Well, I may be turning 70, but I ain’t dead yet! There is still much more to come and look forward to in life.
“Simple Things,” by Jerry Apps, was published by Wisconsin Historical Press, 2018.
Fr. James Bartelme is a retired priest of the Diocese of Superior.