My smartest move as a dad was to have my youngest son born three days before my birthday. My birthday has now been completely overshadowed. That’s fine with me. As a wise eight-year-old, my boy explained to me on his birthday that birthdays are celebrated for a whole week. Fine with me. My birthday has now officially disappeared…almost.
Last August I celebrated my birthday by going to the DMV office in Ventura. Don’t you love government forms? Weight? 160. Eye color? Green. Etc. A sweet-looking woman took my filled-out form and then challenged me: “Brown hair? I think it’s more gray. Is it all right if I put gray?” Awkward moment.
Shall I insist on brown? I think it’s brown. Everyone says that my hair is brown. In fact, it was blond when I was little. Yeah, my kids tease me about some gray hairs, but they do not say that my hair is gray. Maybe it’s just the light in here.
“Sure,” I heard myself saying, “put ‘gray’ if that’s what you think is best.”
Grandpa Unseth was in his 80s when I was small. He had hair growing on his ears. I do not remember a lot about him, but I can remember the new-car smell of his Rambler and the hair on his ears. A couple years ago I had to add a step to getting my hair cut: “Hey, can you buzz the hair off my ears, please?” I am morphing into Grandpa Unseth.
Mortality also prods me to think forward. What will my town be like fifty years from now? How am I influencing this amazing community? Not many of us will donate a civic building like the Ojai Post Office. Every one of us will build up or tear down the people we talk with day by day. Every one of us has the daily opportunity to encourage, to give courage, to those we meet.
Mortality clarifies my decision-making. If I do this, I cannot do that. If I spend here, I cannot invest or donate there.
Mortality sometimes takes my breath away as I actually notice a person in front of me. Mortality slaps me in the face so that I will see: This moment! I have this moment with this person who is made in the image of God!
In my first few months in Ojai, I made—and lost—a friend. Hers was my first funeral here. I am very grateful for two big realities in my relationship with this woman. First, we had very good moments together. We did not get years as friends, but we did become friends.
Second, my forward-looking reality with her is the promise from the Apostle Paul: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).
Mortality stinks, but it will not win!