[published in Purpose: Stories of Faith and Promise, 43.9 (September 2010), 28.]
A number of years ago, a student gave me a compliment I still value. In response to a discussion where several folks rather cynically talked of their expectation that all these young idealists in the class will end up joining the materialistic rat race, this one student said, no, it didn’t have to be. Look at Ted; he’s old and still following his ideals.
Well, I wasn’t really so old back then (early 40s), but that comment triggered my admiring thoughts of truly old people I have known who continued actively seeking peace as long as they could. Two especially came to mind.
Mary Etter was a Quaker peacemaker I had known when I was a young adult in Oregon. She simply was an inspiration as a kind, gentle person with convictions of steel when it came to witnessing against war and for peaceable alternatives.
Guy Hershberger, the leading voice for peace among American Mennonites in the first two-thirds of the 20th century, also inspired me. I knew Guy when he was in his late 80s and I was interim pastor of his church. He invited me to go with him to an organizing meeting of the Phoenix, Arizona, Nuclear Freeze Campaign. It was wonderful to see the activists revere this man who, as one said, “has been working for peace since before we were born.”
Mary and Guy both showed how much a person can do in retirement when one commits oneself to serving the cause of peace. As I reflect on their witness, though, I am actually struck more powerfully with another thought.
These two peace exemplars trained for retirement their entire lives. They didn’t wait until their seventh decades to make peacemaking central to their lives. Certainly it is great when a person reaches retirement and then discovers a new sense of calling and finds, for the first time in their lives, time and energy for creative peace work. However, most likely we will discover that we can’t simply flip on a peacemaking switch when we reach age 67.
We are surely much more likely to make use of all our post-retirement “free time” in peace oriented ways when we do what we can to practice peacemaking all along. In the words of folksinger Phil Ochs, we best understand our present lives as “rehearsals for retirement.”