Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Friday, April 4, 2014

Repent, all Ye Geezers!

—after a long, soul-searching period of reflection, The Professor returns to us today with thoughts on a subject of spiritual interest. It's about time, dead-beat. 

There are a number of privileges that accrue when one enters the ranks of “geezerhood.”  One of the primary privileges is that you can get away with being grumpy…in fact, people almost come to expect it of you.  I would argue, though, that it’s not necessarily grumpiness per se that defines a geezer—after all, a geezer has been known to wax rhapsodic about the excitement of spring training (for many of you, I must clarify, I suppose, I am referring to baseball here, not pruning grapevines). So reputation aside,  it’s clear that there are plenty of things that geezers are fond of—it's just that those things tend to be outmoded, out of date, or just plain deservedly unpopular.  Geezers feel the need to champion many of these things, often grumpily;  in a word, many geezers are contrarians.  So today, let me unpack the merits of something that most people tend to look at as a pronounced “downer.”  I’m referring, of course, to my favorite season: Lent.

Lent, in the Christian calendar, is a time of penitence and spiritual cleansing that occupies the forty days (plus six Sundays to make 46 days total) before Easter.  It starts out with a bang on Ash Wednesday, when we are told one of the few public utterances  you know instinctively to be true. As ashes are smudged on your forehead, you are encouraged in somber tones to “know that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 

Were truer words ever spoken?  And yet, if you survey your typical member of the population and ask what they think about a season characterized by repentance and recognition of mortality, they’d probably reply (after asking if there WAS such a season and what its name was) “thanks, but no thanks.”  And we’re tempted to agree with them; it sounds pretty depressing. 

But the contrarian geezer says: “what a wonderful idea!”  If I recognize my own mortality, that gives me extra incentive to be thankful for the limited time I do have here.”  Good enough so far.  But what about all that repentance?  The very word would make my esteemed fellow geezer The Mathematician grind his teeth, thinking about the gloomy Lutheranism of his youth.  But at its very core repentance is one of the most affirming actions we can take.  At the core of repentance is an acknowledgement that we could have (or perhaps SHOULD have) done better. 

Oh sure, every once in a while we have to repent for things we really did: the two full cans of cashews that were polished off watching one NCAA tournament game; or for habitually driving 95 miles an hour through rush our in the HOV lane WITH NO ONE ELSE IN THE CAR!  Or for the 320,000 dollars you embezzled from your kids’ little league treasury (they shouldn’t have left that much money lying around…)  But for the most part, for most of us, most of the time, we repent not for those things that we did wrong, but rather those things that we could have done better, those people whom we might have treated with more respect or caring, or those actions we didn’t take that could have helped the world a bit.  We say to ourselves “I could have done better” and in return, we receive the message “that’s right, you could have…keep trying.”

So why do so many of us find this attitude gloomy?  My theory is that as a culture we have gotten so used to unconditional approval that an approval that is conditional on our repentence—on our vow to try to do better—is viewed as suspect, disappointing or even hostile.  It’s depressing to many of us.  But why should we view an encouraging ”you can do better” as depressing?  On the surface, those words would appear to be a very affirming vote of confidence.

As a kid, I did well in school, but whether the grade was a C or an A, the feedback I always received was always: “was it your best?”  Best is a pretty big word, and I suppose I technically lied (to myself and my parents) a number of times  when I responded “yes” to this question.  Nonethess, it was clear: part of the “deal” involved with being part of our family was that you strived to do your best.  You were praised, but usually with the proviso that you would strive to be even better next time—and our parents had confidence that we could do better.)

So are belief, confidence and encouragement “downers?”  They don’t seem to me to be depressing, unless you think you’re already as good as you can get (read: perfect) already.  In that case, don’t bother to repent—you’ve got much larger problems to deal with than getting ready for Easter.  But for most of us—the visibly, undeniably and sometimes flamboyantly imperfect—the encouragement of repentance might be just the thing we need to get through this gloomy, over-extended winter in which we find ourselves mired. 

Happy Lent.


  1. My opinion--we are at least two generations into unconditional approval; two and a half if you count the half of my generation whose grandchildren can do no wrong. Every institution I know of is polluted; including my grandchildren's high school, among the top five in Ohio. My granddaughter came back from the regional STEM fair convinced "the judges were against us," not countered by her partner's father, the driver. I've told her six ways to breakfast how she is deluding herself, and the most I can bring her around to is "The judges didn't like our work." The fact is, they did nothing to improve their third place standing at locals, they took the identical work to regional. I can see why our parents switched us to illuminate some ideas; she will have to figure this out on her own. I wonder if unconditional approval will be the downfall of Rome.

  2. Your idea of a gloomy over extended winter poses nicely as a metaphor for the awareness of the procession of Geezerhood. The only escape of this path is by means of what is the eventual termination itself of this journey. No need to rush that mystery! So yes, the idea of repentance, an audit of our being, is a good way to kick through the gloom of eventuality. If there is a chance to improve, there is indeed a chance. A chance at this stage of our life
    is the rising of the sun and the dawning of opportunity which in turn births hope. And from my reformed view that is
    not at all unlike the path of the rabbi. Destination- through the gloomiest of gloom and the darkest of dark-to the offer of ultimate liberation in the brightest of light. You can not get there unless you are willing to put it all down, bare your greatest weakness, endure injustice while hanging on to hope. Heady stuff. Not easily grasped, especially by those who are stymied by repentance.

  3. The problem, or so it seems to me, is that in general Western society is heavily into guilt, an outcome of having lived through, or otherwise affected by the legacies of, periods of puritanism and other fundamentalist excesses. And one doesn't need to be a religious to get onto that trip. That doesn't necessarily mean that repentance is acknowledged as the next step on the journey. Oh no! The natural reaction to guilt is often a bolshy, "So what? I'm only human" attitude. Having experienced guilt, which after all is only an indicator that something amiss in our dealings with our fellow man (at the very least) needs to be examined - but not wallowed in - the matter can be dealt with and any necessary amends can be made. That's real repentance surely.

    Now grumpiness is a refusal to "go with the flow". It's an indicator that one is not prepared to kow-tow to the dogmas of society, that one has character. Of course none of this applies to mere striplings below a certain age who are just being b----y awkward. Grumpiness is an artform, a sign of real, mature character, a mantle if you will that must be worn with pride.

  4. Well into geezerhood at near 70, I'm less and less clear about the issues of repentance, guilt, remorse, and their role in self-improvement, etc. Yeah, I made mistakes, of both the 'shouldn't a done that' and the 'shoulda gone that way instead'. But the further I get away from those things done or not done 30 to 50 years ago, the less clear cut they become.

    I have three great adult kids, and am quite happy with the man and women they've become. Professionally, I never became a world leader in my field, but I did help advance the field.

    So I'll leave the repentance to those who want it.

    As to Lent, even as a 2nd grader in a catholic school, I never really got it either. But then fasting as a form of self-discipline never made sense to me either.

  5. A nice description of Lent and while I don't mind the repentance aspect of the season--I certainly am in need of plenty of it--I hate the way the season reminds me over and over again of my own mortality as my sinus allergies kick up. It's enough to make me long for becoming dust (so that I can cause someone else allergy issues).

  6. "the two full cans of cashews that were polished off watching one NCAA tournament game"

    Replaced "cashews" with "pistachios" and you've summed up my Saturday night. Damn it, do you have a secret miniature camera in my house or something? ;-)

  7. Your point about doing your best is well made, Professor, but there's a shadow on that thinking as well. I find very few times in my life that I can credit my effort as my genuine best. While I wouldn't call myself depressed by this recognition, it's difficult for me to see a lot of encouragement in that.

  8. I gave myself a short break for Lent and gave up self improvement for 46 days. It wasn't easy.

  9. Hi, I found your blog via Geo.s - and what I see here amuses me.
    I've joined Lent the third time (husband and son and daughter-in-love are Catholics, but I only do it to convince The Church that maybe I am worth a shady place on the right side of the cemetry wall - hope I don't have to put the smiley here..., no really: I like to try my boundaries. Or do you say limits?)
    As to repentance: at the moment I only repent not being able to join the other happy geezers that sit here in springtime in Berlin at the Viktoria-Luise-Platz and drink their Chablis, lightened by the mild sun... meaning: I think one repents more the things one didn't do than those one did (well: I'll speak for myself.) Joining your lovely blog as a follower, I'll end this comment with "Non, je ne regrette rien." (Except that Chablis...)

  10. First off, I am so glad that I don't have to suffer through winter here.
    I thought all you had to do these days, was utter some unconvincing apology and enroll in rehab for a month. Clean slate after that....

  11. I'm not religious, but I've always appreciated the concept of Lent. I wish we atheists had as similar cultural season. I'd seen it as more about self-denial and discipline (although it's cloaked as sacrifice) than repentance, but repentance is another idea that secularists could use. I agree that we tend to overpraise in our culture now, as exemplified by participation trophies, which I've always loathed. A trophy (or reward, or praise) is meaningless if it isn't earned. If real effort wasn't put into it.

    I also think we need more frequent reminders of our mortality. Our true mortality: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. You've only got one life, don't let it slip past while you're half asleep. I feel a little bit sad when I think about people who are just gritting their teeth to get through this life, which they think of as an awful way station to the next (better) one. In this season of resurrection stories, we need to remember that we *don't* always get a second chance.

  12. There are few things quite so satisfying as reaching the end of Lent and knowing you have (mostly) done what you pledged to do at the beginning. In my case, that involved giving up almost all flour and dairy. As a side effect of that abstaining, I lost 12 pounds (I will, therefore, be able to run the bases, when softball season begins, without needing oxygen at the bench.) In any case, I think Lent is a wonderful custom. Glad to hear from a kindred soul.

  13. Great post, and enjoyable. I wasn't raised to give up anything for Lent but was encouraged to make do with a well-used minimum all year 'round. My schooldays as a "C" student suggests this applied to my brains as well.

  14. I gave up TV for Lent this year. Didn't miss it at all!