By Frank Ramirez
For those like myself, who are accustomed at NOAC to looking out through the window in the direction of the lake and seeing nothing but grey fog, it is a surprise to learn that before it is properly dawn there is a clear sky. Walking along the lakefront on the Rose Path, it was good to look up and see the cross shining brightly on the hill, light streaming out from the lakefront houses, and bright Venus scanning it all from the heavens like a searchlight.
Like any other boy who read The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien in junior high, when the books weren’t all that old, I couldn’t help but recite to myself that Old English couplet:
Eala Earendel, engla beorhtast
Ofer middangeard monnum sended.
Which translated means:
Hail Earendel, brightest of angels
Over middle earth to all humanity sent.
Venus, known to the old English as Earendel, became part of Tolkien’s legendarium. I reflected on all this as I sauntered over to the parking lot outside the chapel to greet folks who arrived early for the 7 a.m. start of the fundraising walk around the lake. The event raised money for the newly founded NOAC Scholarship Fund, which will help pay the way for older adults who find it hard to afford the conference.
Along the way I shared the path with any number of dogs who, with their humans, were greeting the day as well. Dogs have an extraordinary sense of smell, and they could tell from my shoes that I share my life with a couple of canine friends (the collie Havoc and the shih-tzu General Tso) so they were more than glad to greet me as well.
The first walker to arrive at the starting line was Erma Foust of Union, Ohio. When asked why she was there, she replied, “Because somebody said they could use some help. I said, ‘Tell me what I can do.’”
Glenn F. Pfautz of Sinking Spring, Pa., when asked the same question smiled, shrugged, and said, “Got me!” He paused, and admitted he knew. “NOAC Scholarship.”
Tom Dillon of Vandalia, Ohio, tried to look grumpy when he said, “My wife took me here.”
Meanwhile, as fog rolled in and the lake began to disappear, volunteers unpacked snacks and fruit. Water was handed out to participants as they arrived.
Jim Bicksler of Dakota, Ill., said he was there, “Just for a walk.” Asked if getting up early was part of his normal routine he said, “No! Not since I retired.”
Charlotte Loewen of Geneseo, Kan., turned to a companion and said, “Well, it didn’t take long to walk down here.” Mike Goering of McPherson, Kan., cheerfully noted, “I’m out here to walk. I do walk some.”
“I just feel like this is a beautiful thing, to walk in the morning,” said Betty Bird of Bradford, Ohio, “and if I can help someone else to get here….” she trailed off.
Venus, or Earendel, was no longer visible as the NOAC volunteer corps handed out water bottles. It was explained to all and sundry that the route around the lake was only 2.3 miles, but they would continue down a paved path to the front of Stuart Auditorium to gain the extra two-tenths to make it 2 and a half miles. There was an undercurrent of chatter as those more alert began to cheer up the others.
I asked Martha Reish of Broadway, Va., if she thought this was early. “Not home early.” She said she usually takes a morning walk at home. “I like to walk for a good cause,” she said.
It was announced that if anyone had trouble walking, golf carts would be making the rounds to provide assistance.
Byron Hayes, of McPherson, Kan., scoffed at the idea that this was early. “What do you mean, early? I’m up to walk every day before breakfast.”
“I don’t get up early to walk,” responded Jane Bicksler of Dakota, Ill. However, she continued, “I am up and ready to go!”
After a prayer–and not so much as a “Ready! Set! Go!”–off they went, 84 NOACers setting out into a now mildly foggy morning. The sun had risen. All was well.
— Frank Ramirez is a writer and pastor of Union Center Church of the Brethren in Nappanee, Ind., serving on the press team for National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) 2023.