"Wisdom is with aged men, and with length of days, understanding." Job 12:12
While grocery shopping with my children recently, I was greeted by an elderly friend from daily Mass. After I stopped to converse with him a bit about the never-ending growth of my children and the frequency of my grocery store visits, we parted ways and my family and I continued with our errand.
As we gathered up the groceries, my fourteen-year-old son told me that he felt sorry for me because all of my friends are elderly. I agreed with him that it seems to be true that most of my friends and acquaintances are of an older generation, we laughed about it a bit and continued on with our chore. But upon further reflection, I focused on the fact that my son was taking pity on me for something of which I am actually quite grateful.
Many years ago, before Paul and I were married, I worked as a nursing home food service director. At that time and in that place, my opinion of the elderly was something along the lines of that held by my son. The residents for whom I worked were usually quite cross, always complaining about the food and my staff and challenging me beyond what my capabilities were at that time in my life. I was fearful of those who could no longer comprehend the realities of life, and saddened by those who could no longer perform the functions of daily living such as feeding and dressing themselves. I viewed old age as a fearful and miserable time.
But as I age, and with the passing of my own parents, I often feel like an orphan in need of the guidance that only an older and wiser generation can provide to me. Because my work and my family life keep me surrounded by babies and youth, it is actually quite refreshing to spend some time in the company of those whose demands on me are quite simple-usually a few kind words and a smile are all they need to bring a little sunshine to their day, and that is something that I can easily accomodate. My elderly friends who attend daily Mass have become a type of surrogate parents to me and I am very grateful for their presence in my life.
I have met so many wonderful elderly people who attend daily Mass with me and I am moved by the constancy of their faith and uplifted by the fact that whatever stage of life I am currently in, they have been there before me and have survived it, no matter how difficult it might have been, and they continue to smile and pray and love, and so I know that I too, will survive any difficulties that beset me and I will continue to be able to smile and pray and love.
Recently, one of my elderly friends shared a most interesting story with me. I had never met his wife as he always attends daily Mass alone, so I was surprised when he told me that he and his wife attend a bible study at her church. I boldly asked him what church his wife attended. He answered that she was Presbyterian and that this month they would be celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary. "Wow," I thought, "forty-five years together, each maintaining a separate religion and continuing to remain faithful to their views is an outstanding accomplishment!" Then
he shared something even more astonishing with me. He said that two of his sons are Presbyterian pastors and he is as proud of them as any father could be. "When we get together, we have some very interesting conversations," he said. "And after a couple of bottles of wine, the conversations become even more interesting!" By sharing this story with me including the obvious joy and pride that he felt, he witnessed to the faithfulness required in the vocation of marriage, and I am blessed to carry his story in my heart.
I pray that as the shadow from my own length of days grows, I too, will bring an essence of joy and pride to a younger generation, encouraging them by my example of a life lived well and a faith lived deeply.