Two elderly sisters living out their days together after a life of service. They were both compromised physically, but were still managing to stay in their old home. Like the religious sisters we met yesterday, their Christian vocation did not end with retirement, pooling their capabilities to make sure the household still functioned. Although they could not get to church or the shops any more, they could offer the traditional cup of tea to a visitor, and they could still enjoy a good chat.
On this occasion the visitor was the parish priest, and after their short Communion Service, as he nibbled his ginger nut the conversation turned to the parish finances, which were not very healthy. Father went on at some length and in some detail, a worried man. But there was precious little his audience could do to help him.
At length one of the sisters piped up prophetically: ‘Father dear, stop dragging your cross, pick it up and get on with carrying it!’
Perhaps, like this good priest, we need a chance to let off steam but we also need someone to challenge us to be true to ourselves and the sometimes discouraging duties of our vocation. This Holy Week, let us pray to see our cross, indeed all our problems, in the perspective of the Cross of Jesus.
Pope Francis has asked for special prayers for Pope Emeritus Benedict. He is 95 years old and suffering other symptoms.
This photo shows Benedict presiding at a Christmas meal for poor people and their supporters. Before this there was a protocol that the Pope never ate in public let alone with poor people. This excused a Pope from state banquets but other faithful were not deemed worthy to share a meal with him. No longer so, thanks to Pope Benedict.
There was nothing God ever made that Dylan Thomas, the revolutionary, wanted to alter. The careful compounder of explosive imagery believed only in calm … The true tragedy of Dylan Thomas’s death is that he died. Everything else is secondary to that … He had the faculty of immediacy, of making everything present, and of becoming a part of people’s lives almost before he knew them; how much more did he do this when he knew them well.
Vernon Watkins on Dylan Thomas, from Tenby Museum and Art Gallery.
Vernon Watkins was a friend of Dylan Thomas from boyhood, when they encouraged each other’s writing. Watkins saw the man struggling beneath the chaos of Dylan’s life and remained his friend : even after Dylan failed to appear for Vernon’s wedding, when he was chosen as best man.
‘He had the faculty of … making everything present’, as we can gather for ourselves as we read his work. In Elegy he confidingly brings us to the bedside of his dying father, and shares the thoughts coursing through his mind as he keeps vigil, night and day, holding the hand of that cold kind man. Dylan’s faith that his father may grow young again and never lie lost drives the poem. It is truly a love poem.
Too proud to die; broken and blind he died The darkest way, and did not turn away, A cold kind man brave in his narrow pride
On that darkest day, Oh, forever may He lie lightly, at last, on the last, crossed Hill, under the grass, in love, and there grow
Young among the long flocks, and never lie lost Or still all the numberless days of his death, though Above all he longed for his mother’s breast
Which was rest and dust, and in the kind ground The darkest justice of death, blind and unblessed. Let him find no rest but be fathered and found,
I prayed in the crouching room, by his blind bed, In the muted house, one minute before Noon, and night, and light. the rivers of the dead
Veined his poor hand I held, and I saw Through his unseeing eyes to the roots of the sea. (An old tormented man three-quarters blind,
I am not too proud to cry that He and he Will never never go out of my mind. All his bones crying, and poor in all but pain,
Being innocent, he dreaded that he died Hating his God, but what he was was plain: An old kind man brave in his burning pride.
The sticks of the house were his; his books he owned. Even as a baby he had never cried; Nor did he now, save to his secret wound.
Out of his eyes I saw the last light glide. Here among the liught of the lording sky An old man is with me where I go
Walking in the meadows of his son’s eye On whom a world of ills came down like snow. He cried as he died, fearing at last the spheres’
Last sound, the world going out without a breath: Too proud to cry, too frail to check the tears, And caught between two nights, blindness and death.
O deepest wound of all that he should die On that darkest day. oh, he could hide The tears out of his eyes, too proud to cry.
The elderly lady that Arthur and I garden for now lives alone in the house that was her bed and breakfast business. She constantly gave of herself to her family and guests with beautiful food, but now relies on carers to put her meals on the table, because sometimes she forgets important things like eating.
Today we were talking about this experience of giving back to God some of our faculties in old age and being cared for. ‘That is true,’ she said, ‘but we can still sit around the table and enjoy a cup of tea and good company. That is good, thank you for coming to see me.’
Pope Francis has been proclaiming the important place of old people. The wisdom of his teaching has come home to me – quite literally – recently.
Home. My mother is in her nineties and lives some distance away from us in Canterbury. During the pandemic we did not visit, and local visitors were talking to her from the back door, so it was good for both sides when Mrs T came with me to see her. ‘You will be fed!’ she said, and we were, though she takes a labour-saving approach to shopping and cooking: on-line orders and prepared vegetables. And of course there were conversations until late. Setting the world to rights.
Back to Kent and time to do Mrs E’s garden. Mrs E used to run a guest house, a B&B before Air BnB. It was a true vocation, making strangers welcome. Now widowed, she lives with dementia, is often confused, but always brings me a cup of tea during the morning. Her instinct for hospitality remains strong! So far she remains in her home, with the help of carers, and is able to welcome friends for tea and biscuits.
I used to visit a convent to see one of the sisters on church business, but the sister who answered the door would always raise my spirits. The first time we met she told me, ‘Mostly we look after old people here.’ This from an old lady, walking with two sticks, and bent double. Making the stranger welcome is one of the seven works of mercy, and so is visiting the infirm. One good turn generates another in a virtuous circle.
How can I make someone welcome this week? Who might like a visit from me?
We pray for health care workers who serve the sick and the elderly, especially in the poorest countries; may they be adequately supported by governments and local communities.
Closed doors at the end of a corridor. Inside consulting rooms, doctors, nurses, therapists still see patients, one-to-one, even if under covid-19 many appointments are on line or over the phone. It’s easy to forget that behind those doors are people working harder than they should, for longer than they should.
Let us be conscious of the sacrifices they are making, day after day, to keep us all safe; also of the stress, exhaustion and burn out they endure; of their families who see less of them and see them at the end of their tether, trying to summon the energy to be a spouse, partner, parent.
This post is from an article by Dominique Greiner in Croire-La Croix of 4.02.2022. In it he cites Pope Francis urging us to be conscious of old people as our elder brothers and sisters worthy of our respect, worthy of our spending time with them.
Growing old is not a disease nor a cause for sadness. Old age is a new stage of our life. For sure it can be marked by a decline in strength and various unpleasantnesses due to age, but that doesn’t take away anything from people’s dignity or the respect that is their due.
Pope Francis has denounced the abandonment of old people as a hidden euthanasia, brought about by our throwaway culture. “Old People’s Care Homes should be the lungs of humanity in a country, a neighbourhood, a parish. They should be sanctuaries of humanity, where a person who is old and frail is treated like an elder brother or sister.” In other words, caring for old people is not just for the professionals. Each one of us should feel concerned about the well-being of our elders. Even if we only visit them regularly, we are showing them that we haven’t abandoned them, and they are still important in our eyes.
So who in our neighbourhood or extended family should be receiving a word, a letter, an email, a visit from you or me these next few days? And what about a thought and a prayer for the carers who enable families to live their own lives, with their own duties and responsibilities?
The discussion drifted to mobility and the challenges posed by diminishing powers in later life.
Jane had struggled with herself to adopt a walking stick, and then a walker with a seat and shopping box. ‘But that was silly of me, because now I can get down to the shops and the promenade.’ The thought of not seeing the sea, though living so close, had steeled her to swallow her pride and try the aids.
‘I can do so much more now’, she says.
Reinventing the wheel or even the walking stick seems excessive, but many of us learn the hard way. Jane would tell you how its tempting to be too self-reliant, too independent. In the 1980’s people in big mental hospitals were released into ‘the community’ to live independently; often in a one bedroom flat somewhere completely unknown to the person concerned who would have been incarcerated for decades.
‘The community’ did not exist for them unless someone made an effort to befriend them.
Jane’s first walker trolley was given to her by a fellow member of the exercise group, who had another that suited her better. The group is a little community, even when meeting by zoom.
What can we learn from this little story? To accept help or advice graciously, to admit that no man (or woman) is an island entire of itself, not even me! So we are all responsible for each other, and are diminished if a neighbour suffers; we are, or should be, involved in mankind, conscious of each other’s needs and gifts.
No Man Is An Island by John Donne
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
This elegant memorial tablet must have a few stories to tell. Who was Widow Marshall? We are not told here her Christian name, nor her maiden name, just her longevity and her honourable status as a widow. Did any children of hers remain to follow her body to the grave?
A tablet in the church records: ‘Death will come at last. To the memory of Widow Marshall, late of this parish, who died the 9th day of March 1798. Aged 98 years. Erected by Benj. Cooper, gent of this parish.’ Poor Ben, though, followed the good widow into the grave at the age of only 38!
I have been extremely ill of an asthma and dropsy, but received, by the mercy of GOD, sudden and unexpected relief last Thursday, by the discharge of twenty pints of water[11 litres]. Whether I shall continue free, or shall fill again, cannot be told. Pray for me.
Death, my dear, is very dreadful; let us think nothing worth our care but how to prepare for it: what we know amiss in ourselves let us make haste to amend, and put our trust in the mercy of GOD, and the intercession of our Saviour.
I am, dear Madam,
Your most humble servant,
Life of Johnson, Volume 4 1780-1784″ by James Boswell.
Lucy Porter was Johnson’s stepdaughter; he had married her widowed mother but she had died after just a few years. Although he lived and worked in London – the man who is tired of London is tired of life is his saying – he kept in touch with family and friends in Lichfield, his home town, including Lucy. At the time of writing he was an old man and sick; dropsy is now called oedema, a swelling of soft tissue especially in the legs, and may be an indication of heart failure – so carrying 11 kilos of extra weight in fluid was not good. Johnson does not say how his relief was brought about.
But his heartfelt love for his stepdaughter shines through, as well as his apprehension of death and judgement.