Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Growing Older - Austin

On a recent trip to Alberta for a family wedding, I spent quite a bit of time with my parents. At 89, Dad is in exceptionally good shape physically. He still does pushups and walks for miles every day. However, selling the house and far more, selling his workshop with all its tools, has stripped him in ways almost beyond measuring. The retirement home they have moved into pampers him and surrounds him with luxury, yet he is lost. The craft room with jigsaw puzzles and origami holds no appeal.

He never was particularly safe in his workshop. He has made multiple trips to hospital emergency rooms over the years, blood streaming from some deep cut. But he found purpose and fulfillment there. More than that, his workshop has played an immense role in the Canadian Leprosy Mission. Dad has stripped insulation off of thousands of pounds of copper and aluminum wire. Sold for salvage, Dad and a partner have for multiple years raised $50,000 a year and more. In that same workshop a ladies group has sorted rags and rolled bandages. Lawnmowers and small appliances have been cleaned and repaired. A Bible For Missions Store in Red Deer, Alberta has been on the receiving end of those contributions, and because of them thousands of Bibles have been distributed world-wide. The workshop was a mission and Dad was a missionary. Now he’s surrounded with luxury, but feeling lost and useless.

A single lonely tree standing by the highway caught my attention on that trip. I passed it numerous times and it became a metaphor of Dad’s life.

Lonely Old Tree

There’s a lonely old tree by the highway.
It is blighted by lightning and hail.
It’s old and it’s worn. It’s alone and forlorn,
yet it spreads branches green without fail.

And the farmer’s sharp curse ever greets it
as he swings his big tractor around.
The branches that sway, just stand in the way,
so he’ll lay its old length on the ground.

For it stands all alone in the fence-row
though the fence has been taken away.
It is ancient and worn. It’s battered and torn.
Small beauty in its branches still sway.

A nuisance to the great cultivator
that rends a dark trail through the earth
where a forest once stood – a quiet, clean wood
and the tree long ago had its birth.

All the others to chainsaw have fallen
and the bight of the bulldozer’s blade.
The tree stands alone. Not a post or a stone
by this weary old source of thin shade.

And it stands half a mile from a neighbor
by the highway’s incessant harsh din.
It was twenty years past – it rubbed branches last,
quiet chatter with its closest kin.

And it is old and it’s worn and it’s battered
as it wearily stands in its place.
Still it pushes spring green, stands worn, but serene,
clothes the highway’s bare banks with quiet grace.

(Copyright Brian Austin)

As I age myself, I think somehow there must be a better way to deal with aging. All of Dad’s physical needs are met, yet he has lost what matters to him most. There was a house for sale just beside the retirement home when I was out there – with a garage. I’d give a lot today to be able to buy it, set up a workshop and then ask someone to check in on Dad a couple times a day. Yes, I’d worry that he’d bleed to death in there. But he’s bleeding to death now, without a visible wound showing. I wonder how many thousands are like him?

An Old Man’s Sorrow

They’ve surrounded him with luxury.
They’ve met his every need.
There’s a winsome smile and a good hot meal,
no need to sweat or bleed.

No need to labour through the hours,
toiling hard from day to day.
He has earned his rest – and earned it well.
Now he has a place to stay. . .

And bask in luxury for a while,
enjoy the pampered life.
He can take up gulf – go fishing,
or go on long walks with his wife.

But his workshop they have taken.
The auctioneer’s cry of “Sold!”
has stripped him of those well-worn tools
. . . left him smaller, weaker, old.

For the workshop’s where he laughed at life.
It’s also where he wept.
And somehow in that dusty place
a part of him was always kept.

And he’s lost it, though it did not sell
for no one knew it’s worth,
and little thought through the auction’s din
of the pain it brought to birth.

Now the dream’s become a nightmare.
Sears his heart as with a knife.
It has emptied from the living
the thrills and challenges of life.

And the luxury he’d surrender
without a second thought
could he just go back to that dusty room;
tools o’er a lifetime bought.

Could he earn a blister? Bleed a bit?
Get splinters in his hand?
Sweep fresh wood-shavings from the floor?
Does no one understand?

His health is good and he speaks his thanks
but still he grieves each day
o’er the worn tools in that workshop
they took and sold away.

The house is sold. The workshop gone.
Time relentlessly moves on
as an old man grieves midst luxury,
drained of purpose, hope and song.

(Copyright Brian Austin)

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