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The Big Eight-O


by Daniel O’Rourke | 1/12/12

On December 31st last year, I turned eighty-years-old. Back in 1931 when taxes were lower and not a raging national issue; I was a tax exemption for my parents.


I was born with the blue baby syndrome and they feared I was going to die. The birth was in a Catholic hospital, but the attending doctor Vivian Edwards was a third degree Mason and a Presbyterian elder. He baptized me then and there. Marge Kelly the obstetrics nurse told him, “Doctor, Bishop O’Reilly (the local bishop) could not have done it any better!”

Eighteen years later, when I went to Doctor Edwards, still the family physician, for a physical to enter the seminary, he told me that story. Some old fashioned Catholics thought that being baptized by a “heretic” explains my frequent rebellion against the Roman Church. Perhaps they were right.

Anyway eighty years later, with the help of by-pass surgery, a top-rate cardiologist, and modern meds my heart is still beating. And I’m very grateful to God for my long, rich and varied life. The old Irish wedding blessing has been true for my wife and me “May your children’s children laugh up in your faces.” They have and they have been a joy.

There is little that compares to the joys of family and together with my work and ministry I have enjoyed them all. There have been weddings, baptisms, birthdays, musicals and first communions – celebrations and merriment. But there have also been funerals. My life, as every life, has had its losses and sorrows.

I’m resolving, however, for whatever time is left not to condemn myself to a life of continuous yesterdays. Life moves on; it changes. My New Year’s resolution is to change with it – and to continue to grow. Life is short. Even a long life goes by quickly. The young don’t grasp that, but it will be over before they realize.

At eighty I hope I am wiser. I’ve resolved not to trouble myself about the Dow Jones average, the state of the market, and my investments. “Que sera, sera.” Whatever will be, will be.

And no foolish attempts to look younger with face lifts and toupees. Even in middle age, I’ve never considered those, but now balder and “jowlier” in some perverse way they would make more sense, but I find it nonsense.

The ancient words of the Catholic Ash Wednesday ritual rush back to me. “Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.” The things that really matter are not those of the flesh; they are of the spirit. I resolve to use the time left for them.

John O’Donohue, the late Irish priest, poet and philosopher, spoke of the last years of life as “the autumn years.” Autumn is a time of harvesting and gathering, but also a time of sharing and giving.

I hope my long and varied life has taught me something worth sharing. I think it has. So long as I am able I will share what I can through these columns. As long I can see – with an excellent and compassionate eye doctor, a computer screen that magnifies the text – and so long as my mind can compose, I will continue writing.

One final reflection on the big Eight O. Eighty some have alleged is the new sixty-five. It is not. Eighty is eighty with all its aches and pains, but despite them, I’m thankful for every day. Each morning is a new beginning. I’m grateful for life and the opportunity to continue to make a contribution.


Retired from the administration at State University of New York at Fredonia, Daniel O’Rourke lives in Cassadaga, New York. His column appears in the Observer, Dunkirk, NY on the second and fourth Thursday each month. A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest. His new book, “The Living Spirit” is a collection of previous columns. To read about that book or send comments on this column visit his website

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