There are significant moments in our lives that mark transitions from one stage of maturity to another. For example, when I was in my late teens, I recall being called “that man” for the first time. Until that moment, I still considered myself to be a kid. An older kid, to be sure, but certainly not a man.
Being called “Reverend” or “Doctor” for the first time was also something that made me sit back and take notice. And when one of our United Methodist bishops was assigned to the Greater New Jersey Area, I was invited to do a taped interview with him. He was actually a year or two younger than I, and it felt weird to know that I was speaking with an authority figure who was from my generation (sort of the same feeling one gets upon realizing that a number of members of the local police force are your age or younger).
So, I think I was just ushered into my final rite of passage last week by a little boy who was riding an electric motorcycle down our street. I was outside for some reason. As he rode by, he called out, “Hey, old man! Is this illegal?” He had been told that he couldn’t legally ride his motorcycle in the street and was asking me if that were true.
There were two things that came into play in that moment:
1. Knowing nothing about the laws governing underage kids and their motorcycles, I couldn’t answer his question. And,
2. Where did that smart-mouthed kid get off calling me an “old man?”
Then I remembered what I looked like these days: bald head with some gray hairs growing around the sides and back, gray mustache and goatee, and crepe skin. If that doesn’t describe “old,” then I don’t know what does.
And that’s pretty much the final rite of passage, isn’t it? We go from birth to preschool to elementary grades, and then to junior high and high school (our teen years). Then, if we have the means and the will, go on to college and our first job (young adult). Then, if it’s our desire, marriage and maybe parenthood (or not) that lead to middle age. After the career takes us to retirement, we enter “senior citizenship,” and, finally, old age, which that young upstart on his electric motorcycle recognized in me right away.
I believe the final stage is “old dead man.” If that stage comes as quickly as all the others have, I should probably be saying my good-byes now or I won’t have time to do it before I shuffle off to meet Jesus.
Rites of passage. They make us think, don’t they?