18 April 2018

Growing Old Freely: Community Of Hope. We Are Accepted.

Growing Old Freely

A woman on Facebook posted a message the other day, she said she always tells her children to expect nothing, they may be pleasantly surprised, and never disappointed.

We learn early enough to be wary, almost never to be hopeful. Hope is the message of the marginalized, the ones who never get to go on the news, the ones who live on the edges of our lives, with dirty storefront windows and drooping plants.

I know that to expect nothing is a common and popular way to look at the world, but it is not what I told my child. I said to expect everything, and you will never be disappointed. And she has everything she ever wished for, and is not disappointed.

It's a different way of looking at the world.

I need to ask Emma if it turned out to be good advice or not. I live in a Community Of Hope, and quite often I feel as if I am the only resident being there. People look at me strangely when I tell them that.

I love dogs for many reasons, but one of them is that they never give up hope.

They are always hoping to go to the sheep, to chase a ball, to get a treat, to get fed, to take a ride, to go for a walk. They never give up hope, are never discouraged or disappointed.

They just get up and try again, and thus they get almost everything they want. I am that way, I have to confess, hope, faith's first cousin, entered my life a few years ago and has made a nest in my soul.

Thomas Merton often said he was growing older, he never once  said he was old. I like the term, I am growing older all the time. At the Mansion today, a  resident named John threw a fit because he wanted to go outside, and an aide told him it was too cold and slippery. I encouraged him to come in and see Red, and he got angry with me and shouted "I am 67 years old, and I can't be told what to do."

I smiled and said softly, "well, I am nearly 71 years old and I am suggesting that you stay inside and sit on that bench right there." This impressed John greatly, and he grudgingly deferred to me. "Oh," he said, still grumbling, "well, 71…" He sat down.

When you get older, there is little to guide you, unless you like to read hysterical AARP bulletins about Medicare or stories about Alzheimers and big pharma (I don't), or warnings not to shovel snow.

There is very little good news or information about how to get old with grace and joy and acceptance. It is assumed those things are in the past.

I am naive, I suppose. I am happy in my life, very much in love, in work I also love,  and filled with hope.

I see every bad and painful opportunity as a chance to do good and recover and overcome. That is what grace is about, it's not about having a perfect life, which is impossible, but a meaningful life, which is always possible. I am crazy, but I get to recover every day.

There are some difficult things about getting older – something always hurts in the morning – and some wonderful things.

Henri J.M. Nouwen, the theologian, writes that in solitude, we can grow old freely without being preoccupied with our usefulness and  we can offer services we had not planned on.

I know what he means. When we get older, we lose our dependencies on this world, and many of our fears and obligations – father, mother, children, career, success, rewards and recognition,  ambitions, sensitivities and grudges. I feel lighter and freer than I have ever felt.

I take the world seriously, but never too seriously, I have seen too much to do that. \

When you get older, there is almost nothing you haven't seen or heard once at least once before. It can give you wisdom or make you a cynic. Perspective seeps into the blood, along with some wisdom and detachment. I rarely regret being old, I give thanks almost every day because I am no longer  young.

That was really hard.

Someof my peers are always grumping about how better life was back in the day, and how awful children are today.

Mostly, I smile when I hear that, and I try hard not to be anywhere where I might hear that. For me, the loneliness of aging is that I don't want to care about our age, our my health, or the price of drugs or the failings of youth. I need to be around people who look ahead, not back. Who have expectations.

That is every generations' lament – the world was always better, and young kids today don't know how to live and work.

I suppose one day all the old farts will be right, and Mother Earth will pull the plug on all of us.

I live now in a community of hope, there is less to defend  or yearn for, but much to share and love. It is a rich time for me, The many slights and disappointments that plagued me and kept me awake have slipped away, they just seem silly to me now.

I have work to do and life to life. Last week, I was visiting the soccer team at RISSE and one of the children I was talking to said he was working on an essay for school, and he wanted to write about being ambitious and successful in his new life in America. Could I help him? He knew I was a writer. He wanted to know what I would say.

I sat down in the raucous RISSE  cafeteria, I talked slowly. Aat speaks English well, but he writes slowly, and he was taking notes.

I think you should have the expectation of hope and  joy, not success, I said, not ambition. In America, success is too often a code word for money. Do what you love.

I think you should laugh at yourself, and at life.

I live in a community of hope, we work hard, but are not destroyed by failure. It makes us stronger. We remind ourselves every day that we form a brotherhood and sisterhood of the weak and the vulnerable, visible only to the God we choose to follow and who speaks to the happy and the sad parts of us, and also to the lonely and frightened places in our hearts. 

We tell ourselves every single day: Do not be afraid. You are accepted.

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