Prior to the Wimbledon Women’s Tennis Finals last Saturday on ESPN, former tennis great John McEnroe and retired NBA star Charles Barkley were discussing the upcoming match. Their conversation turned into a confessional moment. They both remembered how in their youth they would lose their cool on the court and throw temper tantrums. Now that they were older they expressed regret at their childish behavior. Barkley even turned into a wise sage for a moment: “If you live close too close to the edge,” he said, “you’re going to fall over the cliff. It’s just a matter of time.”
McEnroe is 53. Barkley will turn 50 next February. Both have lost much of their athletic prowess. McEnroe’s hair is graying, Barkley’s belly is bulging (although he is looking quite a bit trimmer than he used to thanks to Weight Watchers). But it sounds like they have gained something that youth rarely provides. It’s called maturity.
I’ve been thinking about that word maturity recently. It’s an idea that isn’t popular in our society today. Its modern-day synonyms are outdated. Boring. Irrelevant. Fun-killing. Ours is a youth-worshiping culture. Our pop-idols, whether they be rock stars or sports stars or movie stars, tend to have one thing in common: they are young. There are some rare exceptions, but for the most part we relegate aging heroes to the dusty archives of our cultural memory.
Don’t get me wrong. I like young. I enjoy being around young people. I don’t feel my age, and I try my best not to look it, either. I’m doing all I can to fight off the inevitable effects of growing older. I’m proud of how I’m staying current with modern technology. I’ll cling to youthfulness until the calendar pries back my fingers one at a time and forces me to let go.
We all like young. But I’m observing there is a serious price to be paid by a youth-worshiping culture. We reject the wisdom that comes from maturity. We stop listening to the voices that warn us about falling over the cliff if we live too close to the edge. New becomes better than old. Fads win out over the time-tested. Cool triumphs over classic. And most significantly, childishness trumps wisdom.
You might disagree with me, but I think our society is in desperate need of heroes with gray hair and wrinkles. I think we need older people to act their age and share with us what long life has taught them. And we ought to listen better to them. It might save us all from some unnecessary plunges over the cliff.
“Young people take pride in their strength,
but the gray hairs of wisdom are even more beautiful” (Proverbs 20:29).
So what do you think?