As I am in the midst of what likely is my last quarter of a century on this planet, I find myself becoming more and more committed to live by a phrase I first heard Jim Kaat say when he was pitching coach for the Cincinnati Reds way back in 1984 and 1985.
Asked if his insistence on having a four-man starting rotation (instead of a five-man rotation that is the norm today) would result in more pitchers developing arm problems because of throwing too many innings, Kaat uttered the phrase that I have found so useful in life: “You will rust out before you wear out.”
Kaat was convinced that too much rest was more likely to cause arm problems for pitchers than pitching too many innings, and he followed that belief throughout a career that spanned 24 years.
While I admit that there are parts of my body that do not work as well as they once did and I tire out much quicker than I once did, I vow to follow Jim Kaat’s advice by refusing to rust out. Although I hope to retire when I reach 67 in another three years, I do not plan to shift from working every day to becoming a couch potato waiting to die. There are a lot of things I still want to do in life, and I plan to stay active for as long as my health permits. I also believe that as long as I stay active, the chances of my health allowing me to stay active will greatly increase.
I am blessed with having a number of people who inspire me to remain active. One is Ray McCann, who stood beside me on a cold, rainy night in Central Park Monday as the South Ashland United Methodist Church choir sang for the opening night of the Winter Wonderland of Lights. Ray, a former assistant superintendent of the Ashland Independent School District, is 90 and in excellent health. He also still has a beautiful singing voice. That’s why I was standing beside him. I am a fair singer, but it helps me immensely if the guy beside me is a great singer.
Ray has never allowed himself to rust out. He volunteers at King’s Daughters Medical Center, assists with the funerals at a local funeral home and still drives and lives alone. I am convinced that he has remained so healthy for so long because he has stayed active. I hope to do the same.
On Tuesday morning, I received a call from my friend Tom Heaberlin, also 90. For decades, Tom was pastor of Argillite United Methodist Church at the same time he had a full-time job. After his “retirement” from his day job, he continued to pastor the church and he remained extremely active. While he told me that he now rarely gets out, Tom said he continues to write and hopes to complete a book before the Lord calls him home. From our conversation, I could tell that Tom is as sharp mentally as he ever was. He is not rusting out.
Although she now is battling a life-threatening illness, my mother-in-law, now 94, continues to be an inspiration. She still lives alone, and although her bones and joints ache and she constantly grunts in pain, she continues to work in her large yard and to go out regularly with her two daughters who live in her hometown of Lincoln, Neb. She’s also an inspiration.
As I write this, I recall one friend who I am convinced allowed herself to “rust out.” I was visiting this friend in a nursing home, when she started complaining about her ailments. At the time, she was 85.
I was almost 40 years younger than she and I could not resist interrupting her list of complaints by pointing out that she still had all of her teeth and had never had a filling, still did not need glasses and had perfect hearing.
“You are in better shape thant I am,” I told her.
My friend died not long after that conversation. I am convinced that she had convinced herself that she was “too old” to do certain things and simply rusted out when she could have still done many things. I vow not to be like her.
I also must add this warning: You can lose it quickly. Three years ago, my mother, now 95, still lived alone, had a sharp mind and was extremely active. She looked and acted 30 years younger than she was.
Then Alzheimers struck, and her mental decline was rapid. Today, the mother I visit regularly is in many ways a stranger to me. When my wife and I visited her this past weekend, Mom thought my wife was her sister Lucille, who died 20 years ago. Lucille weighed close to 300 pounds and a looked no more like my wife than I look like Brad Pitt. A few minutes later, Mom asked my wife, who she again recognized, if “John Boy” had gone home to bed. John Boy is my childhood name and that is what Mom calls me today.
“No, Mom,” I replied from my seat beside Mom. “I am right here.”
I have another dear friend who is just four years older than I am who also has been stricken by alzheimer’s. Because he is so young and physically healthy, that makes his illness even tougher to take. He would have never allowed himself to “rust out,” but God had other plans for him.
Believe it or not, my mother and my friend inspire me even more to refuse to “rust out.” The Lord only gives us so many good days, and as long as I have the ability, I pray to use each day to the fullest, although I confess to continue to waste too much of the precious time God has given me.
JOHN CANNON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (606) 326-2649.