Growing old is a journey into gratitude; into serenity, wisdom, empathy and into a kind of solitude – each reflecting a center like the sides of a prism. Those of us of a certain vintage are on those journeys and, like any growth journey, they’re not without pains and bruises. Of embarrassments and goodbyes, I’ve had my share along the way.
Battles may have been fought, storms weathered, but the advent of senior years brings a growing sense of context and closure to the struggles of the past, and opens up hope for serenity ahead. American golfer Johnny Millar once said, “Serenity is knowing that your worst shot is still pretty good.”
Some of life’s lessons are learnt in an instant. When I was in my twenties and organizing an important meeting, lack of experience caused me to overlook something which hurt those who were attending. One attendee let fly at me, and an angry chorus of “Why were we not told?” filled the room. I survived, and learned one of life’s important lessons: feelings matter.
To follow the news cycles is to gain the impression that there’s a huge lack of empathy and compassion in the world. This isn’t surprising when we consider that if the world is geared for the young then empathy and compassion are lessons mostly learned later in life.
Serenity ripens with age. We learn as we go along how to choose not to be miserable when the bottom falls out of our plans. As Job 12:12 reminds us, “In length of days is understanding.” This kind of understanding is not the classroom kind, but the wisdom and understanding, and seeing, that comes from weathering life’s many ups and downs.
The gospel stories about Jesus healing the blind, especially the long one this Sunday, are about spiritual understanding, recognition. Believing is the deepest kind of seeing. In a sense, we are the spiritual descendants of the blind men in the Gospels (John 9, Mark 8:22 and 10:46).
The blind man was led by stages from the darkness of being blind to the bright sunshine of recognition – from seeing Jesus the man, to sensing Jesus the prophet, to recognizing Jesus the Son of God. Jesus gave vision, life, hope and courage to this man who had been thrown out of the synagogue for simply recognizing who his healer was.
Length of days can lead us to wisdom, serenity and the kindness that flows from empathy and compassion. Writer and broadcaster Karen Armstrong reminds us that “All faiths insist that compassion is the test of true spirituality and that it brings us into relation with the transcendence we call God” – Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life,” 1-2.
The purpose of life and its length or otherwise is meant to bring us to recognize and acknowledge who Jesus Christ is.
Fr. QQ 3/22/17