The pamphlet is crisp and clear, an undisguised request for support. Its contents are equally direct: a monastery in Memphis closed, the sisters relocated. The second flier is colorful and savvy, but its contents yeild the same information: elderly nuns in need of care and support. They grew old in the service of God and one another: they built schools and communities, changed lives and lived out dreams and nightmares. And then, with energies shifting, they watched their worlds, like their own bodies, change into nearly unrecognizable forms. Those who were mainstays, faithful and strong, who persisted year after year in pursuing purpose and creating a better world, find themselves in need. Marginalized, aching and weary, they have been claimed by Old Age and navigate all new territory.
Old Age pursues with a vigor that can best be described, ironically, as belonging to youth. Elderly priests, sisters and brothers, are no more than human, with a journey no different than anyone else’s. Growing old touches every aspect of self: physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual. And yet, it is hardly an individual journey; the process occurs within the life of a community; communities ebb and flow with the lives enmeshed together. Life, death and rebirth are personal and communal. What happens to one somehow affects all; that truth opens the possibility of caring for one another with courage and compassion.
Old Age opens the harbor of memory, offers a depth, a context for Life’s complexities and celebrations, a balance for the weight and worry of every day. There is irony here, too: what appears to be decline, diminishment, births wisdom. There is no solace in the losses, but there is joy in the remembering that there are gifts. Old Age demands more than can be imagined. It unravels persistently, uniquely in each life. It knocks without welcome; seeks even more deeply when it cannot find. It wants and wanes and wearies, but it does not come without a narrative, without meaning. Escape is not an option, but the story is worth telling.
The story of each person, each community, is wrapped in circumstances, episodes and situations. Every day marks subtle shifts that unwrap the aging process. But that history is worth recall and reflection; the building of memories and the learning of lessons does not occur without that. Wisdom can only find its rhythm through the most rudimentary and practical living, the consciousness of being alive, being an individual and belonging to a community. Old Age becomes partner and companion in the reflective process for both the person and the community.
Today, as those elderly sisters and brothers, priests and nuns search for support, they are turning to the communities they educated. They await action, response, even as they demonstrate what it is to grow old. Catholicism embraces the life cycle with the vision that brought the beauty of the sacraments and the examples of saints as well as the person seated in the last pew. There are examples everywhere of those who have met the challenge Old Age presents with strength and courage, generosity, patience, gentleness and kindness. Growing Old is about more than the limits of diminshment. Old Age is about becoming, evolving, embracing reality with mercy for self and others.