Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

May 30, 2004


Unlike old dogs, old men can sometimes learn new tricks


          People train young dogs, not old ones. Evidently it is difficult to teach old dogs. Dog trainers must then be the source of the old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

          Does that apply to old men? Not in my opinion. Though I am an old man, I am constantly learning new ways of doing things. While some men are obviously “sot” in their ways, my guess is that most are not.

          Change is rooted in the nature of life itself. People are born. They grow. They decline. They die. So we say, “That’s life.” The challenge is to make the best of each stage of life. We can make choices. We can whimper or we can smile. We can complain or we can celebrate.

          Trouble is a great teacher. The death of our first son at age three changed our attitudes about many things. Suddenly we understood “the brevity of life.” We realized how fragile life is, how quickly someone very much alive can become silent in the grave. Like most young people, my wife and I had taken life for granted. David’s death changed that. Ever since that heartbreaking day at an open grave, we have breathed a prayer of gratitude for each new day.

          There is an old saying, “Change is the only thing that stays the same.” No matter how much you may want your life to remain the same, it is always changing. One of the few things we can always depend on is that life will always change. And for that we should thank God! Who would want to spend 70 years in a baby bed sucking on a bottle of apple juice?

          Babies wear diapers. Thank God there are many years between youth and old age before adults must start wearing diapers again! I had the honor of teaching my wife how to change a baby’s diaper. I was the oldest child in my family; she was the youngest in hers. My mother insisted that I help her meet the needs of my siblings.

          Speaking of diapers, my, how they have changed. In the good old days, folks with babies had diapers hanging everywhere to dry, in the house and outside on things we called “clothes lines.” They were white when we bought them, but they soon looked dingy after much use. We used them until they became rags. Now, like so many other things, diapers are disposable. Somewhere, in the great garbage dumps of the world, there must be an ominous mountain of disposable diapers. Archeologists in the future will have to comb through a lot of dirty stuff to find all those ancient dinosaur bones.

          We watch our children grow and wish they could remain as they are – our precious little darlings. They are precious in some ways, but who would really wish for a child to remain long in the “terrible twos.” Many parents barely survive the early years of the little darlings.

          The teen years seem so wonderful at times – proms, glee clubs, athletics, and romance. However, there are other more trying times when teenagers cause us to wonder if they will ever grow up. When our boys were growing up, I decided there should be a law that 16-year-old boys should be caged, and only released after two years of good behavior. Those who think my judgment too severe have probably never raised boys. Yet, as difficult as it was sometimes, I wept like a baby when our last son left home to go away to college. That was a change I did not welcome.

          Consider the rapid changes in technology. I remember the dumb look that came on my face years ago when a man asked me my fax number. I had no idea what he was talking about. However, I learned like everyone else. Then along came cell telephones. Last week a friend of mine pulled his cell phone out and spoke to it. I thought he was nuts. Then he explained that he must no longer dial some numbers. He can simply say, “Walter, cell,” and his phone will dial my number. I want that feature on my cell phone. I want to be able to tell it, “No calls this morning,”

          Given a new computer at church, I inquired where to insert the diskettes. I was told that the use of diskettes is becoming obsolete; the CDs are easier to handle. All this is happening before I get comfortable with the process of “burning” CDs. And look, for heaven’s sake, at the speed with which words take on new meanings. “Burn” no longer means what happened when we took trash out to the “burning barrel.” “Spam” is no longer that compressed meat in a tin can; it is the invasive, undesirable stuff that is constantly showing up in our email.

          As things change, all of us, young and old alike, must learn to “go with the flow” or check out of life. Those who check out soon find they have exchanged fulfillment for misery. Such lonely misery will eventually lead them into sedate, quiet places like nursing homes or cemeteries.

          Learning new tricks is not easy, but it beats the alternatives. Though I may grumble about some of the changes that are forced upon me, I plan to do whatever is necessary to stay alive as long as I live, and to cherish every breath until my last. So I issue this challenge: Old men, arise, come alive, and give these young bucks a run for their money! Life is not over until you give up learning new tricks!

          PS My thanks to Annette C. Kirk for providing the recipe for strawberry figs! I can already see them blessing those cathead biscuits one cold February morning!  + + + +