Actually this has happened to me once before; I was in Rome earlier on in the year and was on a bus going somewhere when a pleasant young Italian girl got up and asked me if I wanted to sit down. All this, of course, was done in international sign language, and I sat down, slightly affronted but glad of the rest.
In my defense, I have to say that walking around Rome all day is no easy task and when you have traipsed up and down four or five of Rome’s seven hills, you are glad of a seat. However, Mrs Quinn, who witnessed the whole incident with a bemused smile, has let me know of it often!
I now have two big rites of passage left in my life. The next has been postponed until September 5th, 2020, when I am touching 66, and is the beginning of my long awaited ‘old age pension.’ It appears that I am among the first of those people that Her Majesty’s Government have decided are fit enough to work on past what was always deemed the pension age of sixty five.
The second and last rite of passage that awaits me is the biggest one of all, the day we close our eyes to this world for good. When I think of this final act in the theatre of life I always remember what Woody Allen said on the subject: “It’s not that I am afraid of dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
Convention tells us that at all these great rites of passage we should reflect on where we are and where we are going.
Where I am going is not that hard to tell now: I am growing ever older, people from my generation are beginning to drop off and familiar names and people are no longer there; all of this is the normal progress of life.
When you stop to pause and think of the number of people whom you have known and yet are now gone and all but forgotten, you soon realize that being dead is a more natural state than being alive.
But part of reflection should be about what you have learned in life and so I can rightly ask myself at this stage in my journey if I have learned anything.
I think I have, and some of the things I have learnt are very important. Let’s start off with what is most important.
Over the years I have come to know that there is a God. It is not a matter of belief; as I have grown older I have moved from believing to knowing. Believe me, there is a big difference.
In my lifetime we have witnessed the rise of the militant anti-theist, the person who scoffs at the very idea of God. They mock him and all who believe with equal venom.
They are fools.
The bible is very plain and direct about this; “The fools says there is no God.”
We do not have to apologise or make excuses, we do not have to give them the right to their opinion; they are simply fools.
What we should do with them is leave them alone and pray for them. And when they are members of our family or close to us we should pray for them all the harder. The world is full of the arrogant and their arrogance is particularly directed at we who believe; we are seen as weak and foolish.
Let them have their thoughts; the life of the simple faithful person has more meaning and depth than anything they have to offer. There is a beautiful contentment and joy in simply closing your eyes at night and saying a few words of thanks to the ‘man above.’
The second big lesson that life has taught me is that there is nothing as important as family and those you love. Again, in this I have been blessed. I have been granted three beautiful children, one of whom is already waiting for me in heaven.
In middle age I got married for a second time, after having waited nine years for an annulment; but it was worth it to be able to get married in the church again. I enjoy being married and have learnt something very important; that marriage and relationships take commitment and hard work, even when you love the person.
If love does not cost you something, it is not real love.
I have also taken up a good habit as I have grown older; I have developed the habit of having a siesta every day. I love it. Immediately after lunch I head off for my 30/45 minutes in bed. And the strange thing is that in the afternoon I work a lot more efficiently than I would otherwise.
A friend of mine was laughing at me and scoffing my new habit until I said to him: ‘can you name me one animal that does not take a nap in the middle of the day.’
You know, we work far too hard. If we would do without half the things we think we need we would not have so much pressure. Why have we so often fell for the belief that material things will make us happy? I have done it many times and even now I still sometimes feel the draw that something new will make me happy.
Growing old makes us aware of other things. Do you remember when you were young, say in your teens, and you looked at older people of about that dreaded old age of sixty, and thought that they were hateful old so and so’s.
Now as I have grown older I realize that these men and women were doing the best they could and were simply looking after their family and the things that were important to them. They were good ordinary people.
Being a parent is not easy; there is no manual for parenting. It is hit and miss and as often as not we get it wrong. But somehow it all works out in the end, the old saying that ‘love covers a multitude of sins’ is the only explanation for this.
Although many times we don’t feel it, we all love the children that God has given us. Pope Paul VI was right when he wrote that ‘children are God’s supreme gift to a couple.’
Think of that in comparison to the secularists for whom children are a burden and something that they cannot afford. These poor people miss out so much in their foolishness, God love them.
We are ordinary people, me who writes this and you who read it. But there is something good in being the ordinary person. Those who hold pretensions of being important only end up with the proverbial egg on their face.
Life is about doing a succession of ordinary things day in day out and learning as we go along what it is that God wants to teach us. Life is neither a drudge nor one big high; it is the ordinary work of the ordinary person, rearing their family and looking after their affairs.
Throughout our life all of us have had some bitter experiences and as we grow old these can take their toll on us. In his wisdom God has given us a very simple way of alleviating much of the pain and hurt that has been done to us down the years: he tells us to forgive them all.
This is not easy but it is very, very practical. Anger and hatred eat away at the very heart of our being. This fact hit me really hard with the death of Margaret Thatcher. At first I was elated and then I thought ‘why am I wasting my time hating someone in whom I have no more interest?’
Now when I go to Mass every day I ask God to help me forgive all those people who have wronged me in any way. It is a blanket forgiveness, holding nothing or no one back. It is not ‘I will try to forgive them all except so and so,’ no it is for everyone and every slight, whether small or great.
If we don’t forgive we finish up bitter old people, sitting in the corner hating everyone: we all know some of them.
In turn I ask God for forgiveness for the things that I have done. And, believe me, I have done more people more harm than I have suffered from others. In this part of my life I need to do extra asking than giving; in the scales of justice in life I would be very much on the wrong side.
Sixty is not a time for giving up on life and sitting in the corner. In these past few months I have taken up going to the gym in Lavey. I now go three times a week and the difference it has made to how I feel is enormous.
I tread the treadmill, push the weights and generally work up a good sweat before, feeling invigorated, I head off home for a quick shower. Whether or not it does anything for my weight, I could not care less; I am not trying to impress anyone!
Next week I hope to take a course in Spanish at Ballymena Tech, or whatever name it goes by now. Being from Argentina, my wife’s first language is Spanish, and as she grows older and begins to dote she will revert to the language of her youth; I want to understand her then!
Even though my old mentor, Fr Aengus, died earlier this year, I still read a bit of philosophy or theology every day. I have just started to read a major work by St Thomas Aquinas for the second time; it has only 2,700 pages so it shall not take me long. I hope to be able to tell you when I am writing again for my 70th birthday, that I have just finished it.
What I am trying to get across is that there is nothing wrong with growing old. It is part of life and God has made us in such a way that as we enter each stage of life he will give us the grace to be happy there. God gives us the grace when we need it, not before: he does not give us the grace to face death until we are facing death, we have no need of it before then.
So now I am facing sixty and God has given me the ability to see that it is no big deal. It is another stage in my life. My soul, that part of me that never grows old, feels as fresh and excited today as it ever did: I delight in new experiences and in learning new things, particularly about science and nature.
I enjoy witty conversation, a funny joke and listening to talks by people who have thought seriously about life: I still delight in the sight of a beautiful woman and I am glad that God has put one into my life as I have grown older.
All in all, hitting sixty is not that big a thing. I hope to be around for a good few more years, God willing, and when the times comes for me to slow down or even leave, I believe that God will look after that the way he has looked after everything else.
And so at the end of my story I go right back to where I started; there is a God and he looks after everything. All we have to do is keep ourselves and our big ideas out of the way.
I am glad I am just an ordinary man. I know my wife and my children love me and for this I am very grateful. Somehow I have struggled through this length and I suppose that at this stage I shall make it to the end.
In 1,372 AD a humble Catholic woman wrote some of the most profound words ever written when she said of God and life:
“All is well, all manner of things is well and all manner of things shall be well.”
What more can anyone add to that. Just one thing: Thank God I’m a simple Catholic.
The views expressed are not necessarily those of
the editor but are the views of the writer.
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