Back in 2008, my friend Dave McNeil (at the time a full bird Colonel in the US Army) invited me to tour the battle sites in Normany with active duty paratroopers. Since the 1980’s, the US Army has taken groups of paratroopers back to Normany to study the battles there, to learn from those battles, and to reenact the paratrooper operation of D-Day. Dave has been a critical part of planning and pulling this off, and has hosted Presidents and other heads of state as a result.

I’d never “crossed the pond” (i.e., the Atlantc), and thinking that I may never pass this way again, I gave myself three days in Paris to tour around. For the record, Paris in three days is flat out exhausting. I did not “see it all” by any stretch of the imagination, but I saw what I wanted to.

From Paris I rode a train to Normandy, met Dave, settled into the 17th century manor house of a 9th century chateau, and the tours began.  Along about the second or third day, I was seated at a luncheon with several of Dave’s subordinate officers, who asked “How do you know Colonel McNeil?” I explained that I was his Pastor, which opened up a great conversation with them, along with a British officer who was with us, as well.

The next day, as the group of officers were gathering after lunch to tour the chateau and hear it’s history (it was used by the Germans as a base of operations during the war, and still bears some of the marks of the war-even on some internal walls), I was approached by one of the U.S. Army Captains. He explained their practice of reenacting the jump on the Saturday closest to D-Day, then pointed out that while they like to have their Chaplain pray with them before a jump, they did not have a Chaplain with them. Would I be willing to fill in?

“Honored to be asked, happy to say yes,” I replied.

Two days later, I shivered in the cold and then prayered for these soldiers–American, British, French, German, and Italian. At the end of the prayer, I invited them to join me in the Lord’s Prayer, and listened as I prayed and heard other languages. I was humbled, right afterwards and later, after the jump, to be thanked by several of the troops.

The next day, as we stood and looked over Omaha Beach, the commander of the German troops approached me. He thanked me for “what you did yesterday,” and I quietly admitted that it was my honor.

“You don’t understand,” he said. Then he went on to say that he had many troops under his command who were from the former East Germany, and “they have no belief,” he said. They knew nothing of the Christian faith, and he said the he tries to talk to them about having a deep faith in God. He said he points out to them that it is not something you put in your pocket when you jump, but you must carry it in your heart at all times.

I stood there, shivering in the chilly breeze, looking over the beach on which so many lost their lives, and let the Commander’s words sink into my heart.

Maybe, just maybe, I had travelled and come this far, so I could say a simple prayer, that would be a seed, that one day, may bear fruit in the life of someone I do not know, and will never see.

That was one remarkable trip, and it was worth it, just to be in the right place at the right time.

I called my sister this morning; today is her birthday, and while it is not a significant one, the next one will be. I’ll not give it away, but it has a 6 in it next year. We chit-chatted for a while, and then she said that she remembered the summer that our parents were both the age she reached today. She remembered that I was living outside Charlotte, NC, working in the Hopewell Presbyterian Church for the summer. She flew out to visit me over the 4th of July holiday, and she said that it was that Summer that she decided to “move back home.”

After college she had left our home in Pine Bluff, AR for a job in Dallas. Some time later she moved to Oklahoma City, and over that summer of 1980 she decided that our parents were getting older, and she needed to move to be closer to them to help them. Soon thereafter she moved to Little Rock, where she has lived ever since.

For the record, our parents lived another 23 years after that summer, on their own and independently for the most part. After Dad’s unexpected death, Mom started a slow, then speedy downhill slide, and my sister took advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act to care for her until she follwed Dad to the Church Triumphant 10 weeks after he died.

But I suggested to Kaki that she at her age is really in a much better place than our parents at the same age. As she pointed out, they had both been in the hospital several times. I ran a quick calculation and remembered that Dad had been in coronary care that same summer. While I have had a few bouts in and out of the hospital, it has (with the exception of an emergency appendectomy in college) been pretty weel elective, outpatient surgery. As Kaki said, “It’s all been repair work, right?”

Yup. Both knees scoped, sinuses cleaned up, both shoulders worked on.

All, well, with the exception of the sinuses, were the cost of trying to thumb my nose at Father Time. when I have reached what I call certain “benchmark” birthdays, I have done what I could to prove that I was still alive, and could still keep an edge. On my 40th birthday, I swam the fastest mile I ever completed (don’t ask, I just do not recall the time.) At 45, I don’t recall if I did anything. On my 50th, I rode a solo century (100 miles); my goal was to break 6 hours, and I did not reach it; 6:10:31, which I blame on a long, slow uphill of several miles when I was also fighting a headwind.

Staring 55 in the face this year, I’m trying to decide whether to go for the solo century again, or whether to convince a life-long friend to tackle the GA section of the Appalachain Trail with me. A conversation tomorrow night (with him) may settle that.

My friend Mitch Purvis hit 60 this year, and said that he has hit the stage where everything “clicks.” His knees click, his hips click, etc. I understand that. I’m feeling it, as I continue to rehab a shoulder that I had surgery on at the first of February. I’m recalling that when I had similar surgery on the other shoulder 14 years ago, rehab was faster. In other words, as I get older, it’s taking longer to heal.

I’m facing the fact that I am not as young as I used to be, I am not as strong as I used to be, I am not as fast as I used to be. But my earning potential is better, I don’t make as many mistakes as I used to make, relationships with spouse, family, and friends (and God!) are deeper and more meaningful, and I don’t feel that I have as much to prove.

Unless I am trying to prove something to myself, and to Father Time. If “50 is the new 30”, then I have a lot yet to do. If you see someone broken down on the side of the road, exhausted, gasping for air, it won’t be me. It’ll be Father Time.