110 Percent – a Remarkable Birthday

110 Percent – a Remarkable Birthday

110 Percent – a Remarkable Birthday

We are all waiting – sixty residents, five or six staff, and a few guests. A delightful anticipation permeates the air. The community room of the seniors’ residence is packed, but only as Covid rules allow. Has any one of us ever experienced a birthday party like this? Eileen’s years of sojourning on this earth now total an incredible 100 years, plus the bonus of an additional four.

I feel fortunate, privileged and lucky to be invited; honoured and blessed, are much more likely the appropriate words to describe our presence today. Doreen (my wife) and I do take turns leading a monthly devotional in this residence. Over the years we have become friends with Eileen and have attended some of her birthday celebrations before – her 98th, her 100th the ultimate summit. Then it was being part of her 102nd that captivated us so dramatically. How could she ever reach such a milestone? But now her 104th and still in good health and able to communicate? There is something sacred and holy about the impossible becoming possible!

The song by the gathered folk ring out, “For she’s a jolly good fellow (person)!  Accompanied by her daughter – and her walker that she sometimes forgets she has – in comes the honoured guest. Ushered into a comfortable chair at a small round table, she faces the glowing audience, “I don’t deserve all this! Why me? What have I done to deserve such a party? Why, it’s just ordinary me,” she laughs out. And then with a touch of her usual humour and putting on a pompous air she announces: “Let the games begin!” (The Winter Olympics were to begin in Beijing a week later).

There is cheering as she surveys the gathering. Recognizing her many friends sheer joy and emotion spring out, her arms gleefully stretching out toward us with the Covid restrictions preventing hugs. A supernatural tingling stretches up and down our spines as she makes eye contact with us. Our friendship deepens!

Eileen’s daughter gives a brief overview of her mother’s life. This triggers memories of how when she was 97 years old she came into our devotional time with trouble and joy all flowing together. To me it sounded as if a modern day Psalmist was sharing her deep honest feelings with us (Psalm 22 & 23). “Can I write this up and share it with my congregation in a Call to Worship?” I ask. “You sure can,” as she continued her deepest expressions of sadness and joy. I take note and try to remember her exact words. Sunday morning I share the following:

Over and over I scream and rant at you.
         Why do you do this to me, Lord?
        O why does this happen to the one I love.
Why the death of our first child?

Two years later the death of my husband in the war.
         They never find his body.
Such an excruciatingly difficult time of waiting; hoping.
         So many years of grieving!
Finally, after ten years you give me another wonderful man.
         But now my husband of 30 years;
         Lying helpless, able to do nothing.       
God, why did you take away his speech?
         Why did you take away his mobility?
               Why have you left him with no energy?

         I scream in sheer frustration. I holler at you, Lord.
In torment I slump on the chesterfield,
         I pour out all my anguish.

And then, suddenly, silently, a light enters the room.
It’s all around me;
                      Not a harsh light.
It is soft and peaceful and comforting.
         It’s as if God’s arms are all around me.
No longer can I holler at you, Lord.
      My raging is gone,
             My heart is calmed.
                    I feel completely at peace.
Without question, I know that God is here with me.

And then there was the time when Doreen got the inspiration to invite her and Charlotte, both 98 years old, to our house for dinner. Two perky, intelligent women, Eileen from England and Charlotte from Prussia, their kinsfolk fighting on opposite sides in WWII, yet now united in faith and gratitude. After chatting amiably at the table, we see Charlotte’s eye on the piano in the next room. “I used to play for our church,” she comments wistfully. Her hands begin to softly flow over the keys. Eileen’s Anglican repertoire overlaps enough with Charlotte’s Mennonite songs that we are soon praising God together in heartfelt worship. An unbelievable songfest right in our own home!

My contemplation is recalled into the present.

A colourful, large, 3-foot home-made card is presented to Eileen; “This is from all of us. It will take you awhile to read all the personal best wishes from all your friends,” the Director of Active Living announces to her. I think of how special it was to write those few lines of congratulation.

There is a momentary hush in the tastefully decorated room. Two people are carrying in an extra-large birthday cake, enough to feed “the 5000”. A symbolic muffin-sized cake with one candle proudly standing tall, graces a separate Royal Albert plate. With an extra dose of radiance and warmth, “Happy Birthday” is sung with joy. Gladly we celebrate our “110 percent” lady. Typically when she is asked, “How are you?” she replies with a stream of optimism and hope: “110 percent!” She is known to attribute her longevity to her forward looking confidence that is undergirded by a strong faith.

With intense joy, she watches her friends, as each person is offered a generous piece of cake, along with coffee or tea served in a China tea cup. The seniors’ residence has given its best for this wonderful occasion.

How can I summarize this event, Eileen, living up to her personality: gracious, friendly, a keen sense of humor and humility, healthy determination and independence. Well-dressed and alert, she could have been mistaken for a 90 year-old. The word that continues to sketch itself out for me is the word “Inspiration”. When Eileen throws out the rhetorical question, “I don’t know why I am still alive”, the answer many of us would give would be something like this: “You know, Eileen, your hope is contagious. Your joyful loving presence offers something of value to the world that is hurting.”