It’s a shock to the system when you realize someone thinks of you as “old.”
For me, it happened when a fast-food cashier rang up my order with a senior discount—and I was only 50.
For Win Couchman, it happened when she ran into an old friend who commented, “You’re so spry!” “Spry” was a “compliment reserved for exclusively for old people.”
As the shock of this well-meant statement brought Win to tears, she began to consider aging.
I am at the young end of old: junior-high old. Youth is gone and now, also, middle age. My life at sixty-four is rich, adventurous, blessed, and full of joy (p. 2).
I am not only wrinkling. I am growing. And while I am forgetting some things, I am learning much that is new. This season of my life is as fearsome and exciting as turning fourteen. Nobody told me it would be this way (p. 3).
She decided to investigate “what it means to grow old” from the Bible, culture, the examples of older people in her life (“Not everything I learned from Grandmother about aging was glamorous, but all of it was valuable” [p.84]). She wanted to “notice and enjoy the perks that come with old age” (p. 4).
The results of her study and contemplation is “Don’t Call Me Spry”: Creative Possibilities for Later Life.
Win noted, “The halves of my life each merit my attention. The tension between the material and spiritual aspects of reality are normal. The struggle is to keep a balance: to live in light of the unseen while resetting the washer from ‘permanent press’ to ‘delicate fabrics.’ In order to live for God’s glory and not lose heart, I have the perspective of the eternal as a gift” (p. 4).
In their fifties, Win and her husband, Bob, began to pray and consider what to do when he retired. For many years, they had hosted a ministry called Forever Family which combined hospitality, mentoring, counseling, and teaching. But they were sensing maybe the time had come to do something different.
Through a series of events and contacts, the door eventually opened for them to minister in a variety of other countries eight months out of the year. They enjoyed the novelty and the opportunities to minister, resulting in some never-to-be forgotten experiences.
But they also experienced stresses with travel and continual adjustments, and they handled them differently. She liked to talk things out when stressed or anxious; he withdrew and became quiet. I’m sure those tendencies were always a part of their personalities, but these new experiences brought them to the forefront and required them to meet each other half-way.
Bob’s retirement brought other stresses and adjustments, like sharing space that she had previously had to herself.
Then new stresses arose when Win developed a heart issue which brought not only their international travel to a close, but their full-time active ministry as well. She had to rethink what she could do within her new reality. “It grieved me to give up thinking I could do anything anyone even a generation or two younger than I can do” (p. 45).
It saddened me to give up the illusion that I could always push myself a bit more if I needed to, that pushing was the thing to do. I could no longer be casual about getting too tired. I was newly aware of another true separation between me and those who are younger (p. 46).
She tells how God led her to other types of ministry, mainly mentoring, prayer, being involved with her grandchildren. She still taught and spoke on a limited basis.
One of my favorite chapters is “The Downside,” dealing with some of the negative aspects of aging. “When you ask me how I am, sometimes it is a little hard to know how to answer” (p. 107).
But even though Win describes herself as a pessimist, overall the book is hopeful and positive. The Bible assures that God’s care and love and grace will always be with us. In addition:
As I have looked repeatedly into the mirror of these verses, I have not only been provided with new assurance of God’s caring for me, but I have a greatly enhanced concept of the possibility of lifelong usefulness (p. 136).
While searching for more information about Win, I came across this video of her.
I had not heard of Win before until I read a chapter by her in The Wonder Years: 40 Women over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty, and Strength compiled by Leslie Leyland Fields. I didn’t discover until recently that her chapter, “The Grace to Be Diminished,” originally came from a magazine here. Then I found her poignant article, “The Beds I Have Known,” about living separately from her husband of 72 years when she could no longer care for him. I saw somewhere that she had written this book, so I searched for it. It’s out of print, but I found a used copy in good condition for $5 at Amazon.
I am glad to have found and read it. It gave me much encouragement as I look ahead.