Gracefully Getting Old

David went to Mahanaim, and Absalom crossed the Jordan with all the men of Israel. Absalom had appointed Amasa over the army in place of Joab. Amasa was the son of Jether, an Ishmaelite who had married Abigail, the daughter of Nahash and sister of Zeruiah the mother of Joab. The Israelites and Absalom camped in the land of Gilead.
When David came to Mahanaim, Shobi son of Nahash from Rabbah of the Ammonites, and Makir son of Ammiel from Lo Debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim brought bedding and bowls and articles of pottery. They also brought wheat and barley, flour and roasted grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds, sheep, and cheese from cows’ milk for David and his people to eat. For they said, “The people have become exhausted and hungry and thirsty in the wilderness.”

  • 2 Samuel 17:24-29

Barzillai the Gileadite also came down from Rogelim to cross the Jordan with the king and to send him on his way from there. Now Barzillai was very old, eighty years of age. He had provided for the king during his stay in Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man. The king said to Barzillai, “Cross over with me and stay with me in Jerusalem, and I will provide for you.”
But Barzillai answered the king, “How many more years will I live, that I should go up to Jerusalem with the king? I am now eighty years old. Can I tell the difference between what is enjoyable and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats and drinks? Can I still hear the voices of male and female singers? Why should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king? Your servant will cross over the Jordan with the king for a short distance, but why should the king reward me in this way? Let your servant return, that I may die in my own town near the tomb of my father and mother. But here is your servant Kimham. Let him cross over with my lord the king. Do for him whatever you wish.”
The king said, “Kimham shall cross over with me, and I will do for him whatever you wish. And anything you desire from me I will do for you.”
So all the people crossed the Jordan, and then the king crossed over. The king kissed Barzillai and bid him farewell, and Barzillai returned to his home.

  • 2 Samuel 19:31-39

“Even if you are familiar with the Bible, you may not recall a man in the Old Testament named Barzillai; our only glimpse of him comes from just a dozen verses (2 Samuel 17:27-29; 19:31-39). He was eighty years old, and no one would have blamed him if he had chosen to spend his remaining days letting others shoulder the responsibilities he had once carried. But he didn’t.
“Late in his reign King David was forced to flee for his life from Jerusalem because of a revolt led by his rebellious and arrogant son, Absalom. His desperate flight took him east, into the barren desert regions beyond the Jordan River. Exhausted and almost out of food, he and his loyal band of followers eventually reached an isolated village called Mahanaim. There Barzillai—at great sacrifice and life-threatening risk—provided food and shelter for King David and his men. Without Barzillai’s assistance David and his men might well have perished.
“After Absalom was killed and the revolt collapsed, David— out of gratitude for Barzillai’s hospitality—invited him to return with the king and the army to Jerusalem, promising to take care of him the rest of his life. Think of it: an invitation to spend the remainder of his days in the comfort of the king’s palace—and as a friend of the king!
“But Barzillai refused. His reason? He said he was simply too old to make such a drastic change: ‘No,’ he replied, ‘I am far too old to go with the king to Jerusalem. I am eighty years old today, and I can no longer enjoy anything. Food and wine are no longer tasty, and I cannot hear the singers as they sing’ (2 Samuel 19:34-35 NLT). Old, feeble, and deaf, even the invitation to join the king in Jerusalem—an opportunity he doubtless would have jumped at a decade or so sooner—held no attraction for him. Old age had taken its toll.
“Why does the Bible record this brief incident from the life of one obscure old man? It isn’t just to remind us of the ravages of old age or even the brevity of life. Instead the Bible recounts it to tell us a significant fact: Barzillai’s greatest service to God and His people—the one deed from his entire life that was worthy of being recorded in the Bible—took place when he was an old man.”

  • Billy Graham, Nearing Home

I was laid off the first time when the NASA project where I was working got defunded.  Over 200 people were out of work and the area seemed to collapse, implode, a huge vacuum cleaner just sucked all the life out of that little county in Mississippi.

I registered to do substitute teaching.  Being an engineer by education, the local high school loved the idea of using me for math and science.  One day, the math teacher called in sick and I suddenly had to get ready.  Per the lesson plan, someone from the office explained where in the book they were supposed to be.  I collected the homework.  I took a couple of examples from the text and then something dawned on me.  I had to do the exact thing that they were doing in real life.

I had been offered an opportunity to work for a government nuclear site in Idaho.  I had the knowledge and skills to do the work, and they wanted a contract employee to do the work.  The person that told them that I was the best choice suggested that I ask for at least $60 per hour.  In the early 90s, for an engineer, that was a low mid-range price.  I wanted to keep the price low enough to out bid others. But I had not crunched the numbers.  Let me crunch the numbers with the class watching and maybe they can see how these “dumb old math problems” can be used in making real life decisions.

I first wrote a number on the whiteboard and said that I made about that much as an engineer at the NASA project (okay, but not great pay for a Master’s degreed engineer) and my family of four could make ends meet with that salary, but being a contract employee, I had to add benefits.  I added the concept of time off to be sick and holidays.  I threw out some estimates for medical, dental, and life insurance premiums.  I calculated those premiums per hour worked and showed that the usual benefit package increased the compensation by about a half dollar per hour for every dollar per hour that you made.  I had thrown ballpark figures onto the whiteboard, no known estimates but I was really close.

But then I explained the job.  My family would stay in Mississippi, and I would travel to Idaho.  I would work for three weeks and then I would fly home once each month to be with my family.  Thus, I had to add the travel expenses based on a monthly airline ticket.  But in staying home for a week each month meant that I had to make enough in three weeks to average a four-week salary.  In other words, with a forty-hour workweek, my pay for working 120 hours had to equal the pay that I needed to make in working 160 hours.  Now, I did not factor in food.  I was going to eat the same amount regardless of where I lived, but I would have to maintain an apartment in Idaho, rent a car there, and still maintain my home in Mississippi.

When I was done, the final result was so close to $60 per hour that I could not believe it.  I had pulled numbers out of the air without giving it much thought for the final answer.  Then I turned to the class and asked if I had forgotten anything.

One of the boys in the corner of the room that looked like he was fighting to stay awake (note for ‘people-reading’ skills – these were the sneaky kids in the class) …  The kid raised his hand and said, “Yeah!  You tripled your pay just to break even to cover all your added expenses.  If it were me, and I had to live away from family three weeks out of every month.  I’d want a raise!”

The bell rung and the students filed out of the room.  The assistant principal walked in with tears in her eyes.  I had no idea that the class had a little niche where a administrator could audit a class without the teacher knowing.  She had counseled so many of those very students who wanted to be far from home as soon as they got their diploma, and in an hour lecture, I had reached at least one of them to show that it might just cost a lot more in that strange new, exciting place that was far from home.

And I took the young man up on his suggestion.  I confirmed that all my wild guesses were in the right ballpark and then I asked for $65 per hour.  But I did not get the contract.  After they were about to tender an offer to me, a government bean counter said that the work had to be done by indigenous personnel, those already working there, and the work could not be contracted out.  It was right there in the fine print of the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FARs).  Odd, that was one of my jobs at the NASA project.  I had to compare anything we wished to do to ensure our employees were certified at their job position with the FARs.  Was it legal to do it that way?

But what really hurt is that a year later I saw the first couple of textbooks that the people already working in Idaho (the “indigenous” folks) came up with.  They had copied, almost word-for-word a textbook that I had written a few years before, when I moved from a nuclear job to a NASA job.  I would have been rewriting what I had already written.  No wonder my friend suggested me as the perfect candidate.

Today, being a lot older, it would take a lot more than five dollars per hour extra to entice me.  And my estimate would have to include a personal driver to take my wife to and from dialysis three days per week, grocery shopping one day, and 2-3 doctor appointments each month.  And maybe an at-home nurse to check on her every other day.  And maybe…

Yep, that’s what I figured.  You don’t have enough money in your budget for that.

I am enjoying my retirement anyway, but I might love to move closer to my grandchildren in Tennessee.  Like Barzillai, I might want to be closer to family.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

3 Comments

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  1. This is a very thought-provoking story. $60 an hour sounds like a fortune, even today. But not when you add in all the costs!

    By the way, when I read your title ‘Gracefully Getting Old’ — I thought: I’ve never been graceful before, why would I start now? 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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