Written on: November 8, 2022
From a Faith Perspective Column by Sister Eileen White, GNSH
This article originally appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times. Reprinted here with permission.
By the time you read this column, my Fightin’ Phillies will either have thrilled me and all the fans with big wins or made me proud but disappointed, for getting into the postseason but losing. As a very loyal and enthusiastic supporter, I know lots about losing and not quite so much about winning.
“Now that I am old and gray,” says the psalmist in what Christians call the Old Testament, “O Lord, forsake me not.” (Psalm 71:18) The human condition – like baseball – is about losses and wins, letting go’s and holding on.
Recently I have thought a great deal about aging and about elders. In the book of the prophet, Isaiah, we hear the Eternal and Holy One say these consoling words:
Till your old age I will be the same —
I will carry you until your hair is white.
I have made you, and I will bear you;
yes, I will carry and save you. (Isaiah 46:4)
As I share in the ministry of leadership for my religious community, I have had the privilege of accompanying many of our Sisters as they face physical, mental, and spiritual challenges of growing older. I often quip that none of our parts are under warranty any longer! I have also experienced death and dying up close with relatives and Grey Nun Sisters.
I ask myself periodically, “What will aging do to me? Will I become a burden? Will I suffer? How will I die?” My knees are already giving me a hint at the answer to that first question, but I can’t know the answer to the rest. A song from the movie, “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” has this refrain, which repeats in the morning, the noontime, and the evening of our lives: Did I fill the world with love my whole life through? Only God and I can answer that one, and not until the end of my life journey.
One thing I have learned is that aging has many different faces. Some who are in their 90’s run circles around me in their thinking and their being involved in life and loving others. Some who are much younger seem stuck at home plate and convinced that a strikeout is inevitable. And we probably all know someone who is an incredibly beautiful human being, in spite of all that she or he can no longer do because of aging and illness. What happens to us, we usually cannot change. But, as Louise Penny writes, in her novel, Still Life,
Life is a choice. . . And our lives become defined by our choices. It’s as simple and as complex as that. And as powerful.
What is so obvious to me, until my ego keeps me from seeing it, is now is the time to acknowledge impermanence, vulnerability. I cannot know how I will continue aging nor how I will die, but I know who I want to be today. I do not need to win. I just need to play fair and play hard and help my teammates now. And I know that every day is the time to practice letting go of what does not matter (e.g. “stuff”; reputation; youth; self-image) and hold on to what does (faith, hope, love).