My friend Nic texted me late Wednesday night, “Hope you had a great birthday doing whatever old retired pastors do.”  Nic’s no spring chicken himself.  I can still do 40 pushups… if you give me half an hour. I’m pretty sure that’s 40 more than he can do.  He says his wife won’t let him retire and stay home yet.  And I can sympathize… with her point of view.  

But Nic is a friend and I thought he needed to know about how old, retired pastors spend their birthdays.  And so, I wrote back:

Dear Nic,

I did what every old, retired male pastor does on his birthday.  First, I got up four times between midnight and six to use the bathroom.  Since I was born at 2:25 in the morning, (around the second time I got up), I hummed “Happy Birthday” to myself.  For breakfast, I splurged by soaking my All Bran Cereal with prune juice instead of the normal fat-free milk. 

I then decided to get a little work done in the morning.  You may not know it, but I’m still working in my retirement. Instead of writing sermons that go in one ear and out the other, I’m now writing books… that will someday be recycled on Amazon for $.01 plus $3.99 shipping.  

But there wasn’t much time for work today as I planned to visit my mom in Springfield.  I’d called her a couple days earlier and asked if she was doing anything for lunch on Wednesday.  I was sort of fishing for her to treat me to a birthday lunch.  Fortunately, she remembered it was my special day and took the bait.  “I’ll buy lunch” she promised.  My day was set:  spend the early morning writing, spend the middle of the day with my mom, and read books or watch TV in the evening. Jie was out of town for two days with church work and visits.

Just like all of you who are NOT retired, I spent the day checking in on Facebook, giving a thumbs up to each of the 100 or so friends who sent me greetings.  I don’t recall ever meeting about a dozen of them,  but it was kind of them to wish me well.  

Of course, the highlight of any birthday is going to the mailbox and seeing how many cards people mailed… AND seeing if any have money stuffed in them.  This year there was no money.  But I did get one card each from my mother, the staff in my chiropractor’s office, the crew at Midas Oil Change, and everyone at Nationwide Insurance.  

As I was about to hit the road for Springfield, my brother, (who lives with my mom) called to tell me she was headed to the hospital.  She woke up dizzy and asked him for help getting to the bathroom.  He called 9-1-1 instead, over her protests, promising her that the ambulance would have a bedpan.  I didn’t know you could get someone out of the house that fast.  Perhaps he just needed to have the place to himself for the day. But between my brother and the ambulance crew, she was on her way to the hospital before she had time to get her glasses, cell phone, or hairbrush.  She was particularly peeved that her pajama top didn’t match the bottoms: not thinking when she put them on the night before that she would be thrust into the company of dozens of strangers before getting into her street clothes again.

Her only symptoms were some dizziness and erratic blood pressure, both of which were aggravated by her aggravation.  They stuck her in an emergency room cubicle, which is where I found her about an hour after her arrival at the hospital.  Her main complaint at that time was the lack of a hairbrush.  

Another brother, (the one who is totally bald) offered to run up to the giftshop and get her one.  When he breathlessly announced to the sales ladies that he needed to buy a hairbrush, they all guffawed.  “For my mother… for my mother” he insisted.  I hope they all got promotions for being able to sell a bald man a hairbrush.

I sat around hoping the doctors would release my mom, as she had promised to buy my birthday lunch.  I might have said a few things about that, because after a couple hours my bald brother got tired of listening to me and took me to the hospital cafeteria to buy me the “Hawaiian Special.”  It was not the Burger King Whopper my mom would have bought me, but you get what you can in a crisis.  

After lunch he headed to work and left me alone with my mom and her hairbrush, to wait for her release.  She has really good insurance, however, and it seemed as good a time as any for the staff to order a dozen tests.  So, here I was, stuck on my 68th birthday in the hospital with my mom.  She mumbled something about being stuck with me in a hospital exactly 68 years earlier.  What goes around comes around, I guess.

As the day wore on, the two of us became more and more bored and irritated at the delay in releasing her.  She was feeling much better and grew feistier to get out of there.  It’s interesting what flitters through your mind in such captivity.  

As my mom dozed off on one occasion, the odd notion of “historical reenactment” bounced off my brain.  You know:  Civil War battles, town centennials with all the men growing beards, fake John Wesleys riding horses, orators re-declaring our independence every July 4.  Maybe my mom and I could reenact my original birthday.  After all, she’d been recalling the details about it all day.  A reenactment would give us something to do.  Or maybe not.  Screaming in labor would have just made her dizzy all over again.  And I had no desire to see what burley nurse would be given the role of turning me upside down and slapping my ass until I cried.  Ugh… the mental disintegrations that happens while waiting in an emergency room.

Amidst the dozing off and waking up, the two of us, ages 68 and almost 88, spent the day reminiscing about our shared past. We kept recalling people whose names neither couldn’t remember.  Our memories of places and events didn’t always match, but we paid the differences no mind. After about 5 hours I felt like she was starting to repeat herself.  She suspected the same of me, I could tell.  

As evening approached, I thought it might be a good time to talk to her about her will, as I was the only offspring on site.  My third brother, who lives in Springfield, hadn’t been there all day, as he had been exposed to Covid.  My sister, who lives in Rockford, hadn’t checked her text messages.  If I could get her to rewrite her will right then and there, that would be two less siblings to share with.  And the brother who called 9-1-1 on her was most certainly out of the will.  And the fact that it was my birthday, and she was feeling nostalgic about what happened 68 years ago, and guilty about not taking me to lunch that day… gave me the edge over my bald brother.  Everything she owned was within my grasp that evening… if she’d only had time to fetch a purse full of pen and paper to bring with her in the ambulance.  

So, Nic, that’s how an old retired preacher spent his birthday.  After keeping my mom for two more days, the hospital finally decided her dizziness came from 1) dehydration, 2) not taking her blood pressure medicine the day the ambulance whisked her off, and 3) being livid about being hauled out of her house against her will while wearing mismatched pajamas.  

While I’m sorry for her short incarceration, and always concerned about her health, all in all, I can’t think of a better birthday gift for me than being alone all day with my mom… with nothing to do but talk freely… and enjoy silent moments in each other’s presence.  It was an honor to escort her through those hours, and something profound to simply set my eyes upon her and give thanks for all she has done for me… from my birth day… through all my birthdays… to this most recent and blessed gift of togetherness.