My mother has often observed that in old age, people become more of what they already are. The angry get angrier, the calm, calmer, and so forth. I thought of her words on a recent visit to a nursing home.
I can see why some people avoid communities of the elderly. There is something disconcerting about a group of people in need of aid, especially when we know that those people were once just like us. Personalities among them are just as distinct as anywhere else: the funny one, the smart one, the chatterbox. Also the angry one, the needy one, the bully.
As a silly, tortured adolescent – a gaping vacuum of neediness and a spouting fountain of noise, my only goal in life was to mature. I didn’t dream of wealth or love. What I wanted was inner peace, charm, and calm. I wanted to know when to shut up, and to be able to do so. I wanted to be liked because I was helpful and supportive, and I wanted to not need admiration or attention.
My experience at the nursing home prompted me to contemplate mortality (not uncommon for someone with my temperament) and those goals from my youth were what came to mind. I have achieved many of them and have replaced them with new goals, such as self-possession and faithful trust. I may need these qualities at any time, but I will surely need them when facing death, which I pray will be many years from now,
It may happen that someday everything else will be gone and I will be old and alone. All I will have is myself, and I want to be able to live with myself. In some way, there is always a part of me preparing for that time.
I pray for companionship in old age. I pray for self-sufficiency. I pray for a gentle end. None of those things are in my control. But my own inner calm, my faith that drives out fear, these are qualities I can surely grow. There is no time to waste in developing the virtues we need. It’s easy to put it off, to run away from the reality of the traumas that put our faith to the test. ignoring the future is not worth the risk.
When I am suffering, when I am alone, when I am helpless and a curiosity to visitors, all I will have left is my training in virtue. Perhaps old age isn’t our decline, it is the final act of our “becoming”. When I get there I’ll let you know.
May He support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest and peace at the last.
. – John Henry Newman