Thursday, June 18, 2009

Peering into My Future through My Elder Jesuit Brothers

Over the past two weeks, I have been spending a bit of time with the Jesuits in our infirmary here in Spokane, WA. Most have more than triple my own life experience. All of them, having ministered to others for so much of their Jesuit life, now rely on the help of others to fulfill their own basic needs.

One day, if I make it to that point, I too will need others' hands to be my own, to do the things I will not be able to do myself.

It is a humbling experience to be in the presence of these men. As people who greatly value our own independence, our encounter with those who have lost these facilities gives us pause to reflect on our own life, our own humanity, our own mortality.

They, too, were young once.

A few days ago, I accompanied one of the Jesuits to his eye appointment. The doctor had put yellow dye in his eye for whatever reason--I'm not a doctor, hell if I know why. When he came out, I thought it was one of the coolest things I had seen. It was like he had some inherent mutant powers that were just beginning to manifest in his old age. Storm's eyes become cloudy just before lightning strikes--I teased what supernatural occurrence might come our way. Well, later that day, I went out for a walk with him and asked him about the appointment. By that time, however, he had forgotten that he had gone to the eye doctor and asked me multiple times what day it was. He could tell me stories about events 30-40 years ago with amazing clarity, but the recent past becomes all but forgotten. He was a military chaplain who, in his career, received (if I can remember correctly) four purple hearts. I brought him around GU campus--to reflect at the statue of Ignatius at Cardoner, to contemplate the influence of Fr. DeSmet as one of the first people to venture out to the Northwest, to marvel at the simple beauties of nature on campus, finding God in the midst of it all. As we neared the end of our walk, I told him: "well, you can't help now but cherish the present moment. I'll remember it for the both of us--at least to the best of my ability!" It's a young memory, so it'll probably keep better.

All of these men have served in tremendous ways, and I don't think I will ever truly know what their life was like before my first encounter with them--who they have touched, what they have built in their lifetime. Yet, towards the end of their life, the elderly among us all too often become the forgotten. As the young go out to build memories, I think the old yearn to share their own--for those who will listen. But, I think they also enjoy hearing our stories as well--I think sometimes it makes them feel young again to see the life and energy of budding youth.

I've imagined myself if/when I reach old age--it's difficult not to when you become involved in the infirmary. What will sustain me? Where will I find life? I imagine that it is at this time, more than ever, that we find ourselves turning to our faith, relying in God. I can't help but think about Pedro Arrupe and his famous words after experiencing a debilitating stroke--words that continue to be incredibly moving and powerful for me. I will let his words end my post today:

More than ever I find myself in the hands of God.
This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth.

But now there is a difference;
the initiative is entirely with God.

It is indeed a profound spiritual experience
to know and feel myself so totally in God's hands.

-- Pedro Arrupe SJ,

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