How to Live a Long, Long, Long Time

Monday, April 28, 2008

A big greeting going out from Willard Scott: Happy birthday, Edna Parker!  A week ago Sunday, Edna Parker of Shelbyville, Indiana, celebrated a very special birthday.  She turned 115, cementing her lead in the oldest living person sweepstakes.  It’s truly a remarkable milestone.  Edna was born on April 20, 1893, just a few weeks after Grover Cleveland was inaugurated as president of the United States (for the second time).  She has lived in three centuries and was 21 years old when the United States became involved in World War One (what she probably stubbornly still refers to as “the Great War”).  Edna’s husband died of a heart attack in 1938 at the age of 45, and she has been a widow for 70 years.  In fact, she lived on their family farm until 15 years ago when she finally moved in with her son, who is now deceased.  (Visit here to read the AP story.)

According to the news story, researchers have been studying Edna and other supercentenarians (aged 110 years or more) to unlock the mystery of their longevity.  Dr. Tom Perls, who directs the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University, said, “They’re [i.e., supercentenarians] really our best bet for finding the elusive Holy Grail of our field — which are these longevity-enabling genes.”  In essence, researchers like Dr. Perls are feverishly searching for a way to allow all of us to live to be 115 years old or more.

Isn’t that great?  Wow!  To live 115 years…wouldn’t that be the greatest?  Or would it?

I wonder if Edna Parker is thrilled about living that long.

Edna Parker, aged 115 and thrilled to be here

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it probably isn’ta picnic to live to be 115.  Although I don’t know for absolute certain, I’ll bet that life is awfully lonely for Edna.  Her sons are both dead.  Her siblings are all dead.  Her friends are all dead (only 75 people worldwide are at least 110 years old, so it’s hard to build a cohort, even with facebook).  She lives in a nursing home.  She can’t walk.  Her mind is cloudy at best (15 years ago she wandered away from her son’s home and nearly froze to death), and I’m sure her senses have dimmed considerably over the years.

She can’t enjoy the great pleasures of life any more–can’t drive a car, can’t dance, can’t go swimming, can’t go hiking in the mountains.  So why do we glorify–and seek after–extreme longevity?

My hunch is that the quest for the “Holy Grail” of long life (by researchers and by regular folks alike) is motivated primarily by fear: fear of death, fear of the unknown, fear of disappearing into the oblivion of a godless afterlife.  But Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Your heart must not be troubled or fearful.” (John 14:27 HCSB)  And, in another place, he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” (John 6:47 ESV)

These are about the most clear promises that Jesus made: By faith in him, we can have peace in this life and eternal life in the age to come.  So why do people still long after the Holy Grail?  Because, sadly, tragically, they don’t believe the promises he made.

But I say, believe in Jesus and live boldly!  Eternal life with him will be way better than living in a nursing home for 20 years!  Contrary to popular belief, there are worse things than death–like fear, unbelief, hatred, joylessness, and eternal separation from God.

My wife has tried to coin a new term in this arena.  In the great tradition of the movie “Secondhand Lions,” she calls it committing “oops-icide.”  You know, living freely and even dangerously in old age, being more afraid of lingering in an institution than of dying.  My wife says, “When I turn 85, I’m getting a motorcycle!” 

So, inspired by her–and by Edna Parker–I would like to propose 10 ways to live boldly (and run the risk of committing “oops-icide”), secure in the love of Jesus.  (Pardon my irreverence and impudence as a youngster; Edna Parker was just about to turn 82 when I was born.)  Here they are:

  1. Take up lion taming (Siegfried and Roy???)
  2. Build and fly your own experimental aircraft (hey, it worked for John Denver)
  3. Skydiving!  (a la George H.W. Bush)
  4. Go to Pyongyang and publicly protest Kim Jong Il’s despotic regime
  5. Test your cliff diving technique in Acapulco
  6. Leisurely browse the open-air markets in Basra, Iraq
  7. Travel to rural West Virginia to try out snake handling (see Mark 16:18)
  8. Visit the cannibalistic tribes of the Amazon with a message of peace and harmony
  9. Golf in a thunderstorm
  10. Hand out gospel tracts and Bibles at the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia

Happy birthday, Edna.


4 thoughts on “How to Live a Long, Long, Long Time

  1. Pingback: Boston Senior Living Communities and Retirement Homes » Blog Archive » How to Live a Long, Long, Long Time

  2. Jane (and others),

    I don’t mean to make fun of Edna, and really, all my talk about “oops-icide” is just silliness. I really do value life from natural beginning to natural end. I guess my overall gist was to point out the fallacy of chasing “long life” as though it were our salvation. Life will end for everyone, and we all need a back-up plan. Which is where Jesus comes into the picture. Talking about Edna is just a springboard for disucssing eternity.



  3. I’m thinking Edna looks not a day over 110. Say I’ve golfed in a thunderstorm; okay I wasn’t actually swinging the club, but I was on the course. Besides, I’ve heard, for those of us who are well-grounded, that we don’t even notice when we’re struck by the lightning. Ba-dum-dum.

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