Retirement Doesn’t Exist
Let me introduce you to my new friend: Paul. Paul is an elderly man that I noticed on Sunday evening as I sat in McConn – the coffee shop in our Student Center – doing homework with my housemate. He was walking around by himself and looked somewhat lonely. I thought to myself, “I wonder what he is thinking about as he walks around and looks at all of us. Does he think, ‘If only you knew how fast life flies by…’ or ‘I would love it if one of you would ask me how my day is going’? Or does he just walk around here to be with people?” I wanted to go talk to him, but I was too shy to do it. When he walked away, I instantly felt regret for not approaching him. I made a little pact with God: “If I see him again, I will go talk to him. Promise.”
My Monday morning routine almost always consists of spending the first few hours of the day studying in McConn before chapel. So, on Monday, that’s what I did. As I sat at my table studying for my Anatomy exam later that day, the same elderly gentleman that I had seen the evening before, in the exact same place, walked by my table and took a seat at one of the couches by the fireplace behind me. There was another girl sitting on the other couch, to whom he cheerfully said, “I see you already made a fire for me!” She laughed and acknowledged that she “did it just for him” and put her headphones back on her ears. In the reflection of my laptop screen, I could see that he sat there for some time, simply sitting in silence… maybe in thought. Then, he pulled out his iPhone and seemed to be reading something on it. I was so distracted and so anxious. No longer could I sit and study. I knew that I had told God I would talk to this man. But how do I just randomly start a conversation with him? And the other girl is there doing her homework. After several minutes of debating what to do, and making excuses for why I couldn’t talk to him, I thought, “That girl needs to leave. If she leaves, I can move my studying to her spot and use the ‘I’m going to share the fireplace’ line as an icebreaker!” Sure enough, not long after thinking that, the girl started packing up her stuff! As soon as she left, I took a deep breath and relocated to her seat. I said, “Good morning, sir! I’m going to share the fireplace with you, if that’s okay.” He replied, “Well, sure.” I said, “I’m Katie.” He introduced himself as Paul, and we spent the next 45 minutes getting acquainted. I never did finish my anatomy studying, but I didn’t even care. I learned all about Paul… He grew up as a missionary kid. Then, he went to school for ministry. He didn’t want to become a missionary himself, but he said he quickly realized that God was calling him to mission work in the Philippines. He and his wife spent their entire marriage in ministry. Now, she has passed away and he is retired from the mission field. Three months ago, he was living in Florida with his sister, where they have been for the past few years. They had planned to move back to Marion together, and share a 2-bedroom apartment in the senior community near IWU. The plans were set, everything was packed, and their moving day was scheduled for a Friday. The Monday before, she suddenly passed away as the result of a severe stroke. So, Paul had to move to Marion by himself. Also, he could not afford the apartment in the senior community on his own. So, he is living in a normal apartment complex that abuts IWU’s athletic fields. Since he lives on his own, and as he says, “is not a cook,” he comes to IWU’s cafeteria for every meal. He was sitting in McConn that morning after coming to campus for breakfast. When I asked him at the beginning of the conversation what brought him to campus, his response was, “Oh, I’m just hangin’ out.” Well, after he told me more of his story, he explained that he did a lot of work with teenagers during his years as a missionary and pastor. So, it feels normal to him to spend time with young people. He hangs out on campus each day because he misses being around young people. He also stated quite frankly, “I was supposed to live here with my sister. But now I’m alone and I sit in my apartment and pass the time hour by hour. Honestly, I’m lonely. So I hang out here because of people like you. I’m a people person. And I can see that you are, too! I like talking to you.”
Before I left for chapel, he pulled out a navy blue, pocket-sized day planner, and asked me to write my name and future plans on the current day. He said he wanted to remember when he met me. Also, he was going to add me to his prayer list and he wanted to be educated about praying for me. Then, he said, “Now, wait. I told you my first name, but I never said my last. I always like to tell people my last name because of the Bible verse that says, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’” And with a big grin he added, “See, my last name is Meeks. So, I say we are blessed, but we are plural.”
Paul and I talked about a lot of things that morning. I was so thankful I followed that nudge to introduce myself to him, and I was reluctant to leave when it was time to go to chapel. However, I was blessed to spend more time with him the following morning, again, sitting around the fireplace. I see him nearly every day now, and am so happy to be a friend. But, one of the most important things that has come from this friendship is a new lesson that I learned from Paul… as Christians, we never retire. Paul has been living in Marion for 3 months now, and has already found multiple ways to serve God and serve people. He always has his eyes open for opportunities the Lord provides. And he continues to look upon these opportunities in amazement at the way God is still working in his life. Paul retired from the ministry many years ago, but he has not retired from missions.
James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” A year ago, I was taking care of an orphan when he had no one else to sit in his hospital room with him. Now, I am sitting in a college coffee shop with a widower who has years of mission experience and wisdom to share. No… I’m no extraordinary person for doing either of these things. Yes, I want to take seriously what James 1:27 says, but that’s not actually why I share this. I am writing about it to explain why I believe “taking care of” widows (widowers) and orphans is not just important because we are meeting the needs of others. I think, maybe, God calls us to do these things because He knows how much He can teach us through such people. I have not done anything outstanding. God has.
This is only lesson #1…. But it turned out to be rather long. (I even wrote the short version!) So, I’m leaving it at this for tonight, and I will write about the rest in the next few days.