Isn’t That Sweet?

Another opportunity to listen to NPR this morning on my way in to the office (yes, pastors work more than just a half day on Sunday.  We also often work a half day on Saturdays.  No no, no need to thank us.  We’re glad to sacrifice those two days of the week in the service of the Lord and to have the other five days off).

There was a short news story related to the recent 114th birthday of Walter Bruening , also known as the world’s oldest man.  The ‘writer’ of the NPR audio story congratulated him, and noted how he gave a little speech at his birthday party where he suggested that people ought to be nice to one another.  It’s hard to describe the tone and inflection of voice that the speaker of the story used to describe this.  But I could picture a woman with her head tilted, one hand on the downward cheek, shaking her head softly back and forth and cooing Isn’t that just darling?  
A similar tone of voice was used later to describe the victories of her young children in things such as learning to ride a bike without training wheels.  She talked about how these are really victories and lessons that stick with us all our lives, but her voice conveyed a level of jaded experience.  As a woman of the world, she seems to convey that these victories – as well as admonitions from a man over three times her age – are nice.  Wonderful.  Glowing sort of Hallmark moments.  But her voice also left it pretty clear that these are isolated, rather insulated successes and advice.  Beyond the protected world of early childhood or advanced age, there is the Real World, and in the Real World, stuff has to get done and it doesn’t always (or even often) have much to do with being nice or taking pleasure in the simple things of life.  
I’m celebrating similar victories with my children these days.  Our oldest son learning his first notes on a ukulele.  Our daughter excelling in her tumbling class. Our youngest reciting from memory a poem.  And yes, I’m considerably older than my kids, have lived a bit, seen a bit, done a bit, learned a bit.  But there’s no mistaking the true milestones that these events represent.  I don’t – and I pray I continue with this grace – indulge these victories as sweet or cute or somehow marginalize them against a lifetime of other accomplishments and accolades.  
I see my children’s accomplishments on a par with my ordination, or graduating from high school, or paying off my first car, or any number of assorted milestones I’ve reached in actuality or in my mind.  The milestones are different, but no less glorious.  No less a pure celebration of the goodness of God in providing us with another day to live and learn and experience.  To succeed, to fail, to receive freely forgiveness and grace beyond our wildest dreams or our best efforts to earn.  Mr. Breuning is right – we should be nicer to each other, and that doesn’t matter if we’re four years old, 40, or 114.  Perhaps if we took niceness a bit more seriously (and more carefully defined, to be sure!), we would remember how crucial it is, how beautiful and lovely, and perhaps it would become less of a surprise when we run across it.  
My children are cute.  Mr. Breuning is undoubtedly cute at 114.  But let us not let appearances keep us from remembering the things that matter, the very real victories that constitute not what it means to be successful, but what it means to be alive!   Regardless of how long we live, we all have a lot to learn, and a long way to go.  

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