Old people tend to weary me. And I think I am not the only one to feel that way. First let me clarify that I do not mean chronologically old necessarily. I think that is what often and ever fools people. To me someone becomes “old” when they no longer think, pray, study, grow or expand their horizons. Blessed Mother Teresa was not old—not ever. Neither was Blessed John Paul II nor is Pope Benedict XVI. Each of them was or are vital, engaged people who are respected and revered nearly universally by young and old alike.
When I think of “old” I think of a person set in her or her ways, someone who spends more time talking about his afflictions or counting grandchildren rather than taking an interest in the world around him or beyond, or who alternatively just gives up and hits the casinos to spend money that she or he does not have, and that his children will never see. For the record if any of the above things ever happen to me, I hereby give collective permission to just inject me lethally and have it done with. That is not how I intend to go out!
When I was a child, I used to go visit people in the nursing home a block from where I grew up. I was maybe 10 or 11, and had a weekly routine of people to see each time I went. It never even occurred to me that this was not “normal” behavior for a boy of that age group. But a local pastor who often visited there too actually contacted my mother and told her I was doing the “unheard of” by caring for the forgotten and forgetful! I, on the other hand, just needed some friends and found it to be a treasure trove of them. I also learned huge things from people whose grandparents were in the Civil War, who themselves had lived through World War I, and who knew our little town when it was truly little. Thanks to those visits I still know the name of the town doctor from the 1920s and even the house where he lived. I also became acquainted with the town “slut” from those roaring years—she too lived there and was on my visit list! And no she did not try to seduce me either. It was definitely a rich and varied education for a young boy coming up in the later 1960s/early 70s and undoubtedly influenced both my ministry and calling to the health care field later on. I did not do it to be charitable. I truly had a blast with it.
A few weeks back I was told by someone who I had “befriended” on Face Book that one of the reasons he hesitated to consider me an actual “friend” was my age. Distance and common interests were the others. He is nearly 30 and is in reality an extremely nice person, with a deeply passionate love for God and others. But the generational hang-up was and is real to him. Without knowing me other than on a surface level he had already to some extent written me off, at least initially. We did work it through but the hurt of that conversation is still very real to me and I very nearly left Face Book as a result. Perhaps when that young man is 40 or maybe 50 he will rethink his position on us “old folks “or find to his dismay that he, too, is judged more by an additional 20 lbs, a sprinkling of grey hair (or perhaps the lack of hair altogether) rather than by his convictions, intelligence and interest in others who may be different than he is on some level. By that time however I will be at least retirement age or maybe not even on this earth. It will most likely be well beyond late for us to connect at some point in the unknown future. The time is now or not.
A similar situation arose with someone else at nearly the same time. This person took it upon himself to suggest that I join the Knights of Columbus or some other Catholic men’s association “in my area” of the geographical world rather than look to him for friendship, even though earlier on in our online contacts he appeared very interested in at least the occasional interaction with me. Besides looking terrible in a helmet, I as mentioned work 2 jobs and am taking a Church history class to boot. I am as well in process of exploring lay Dominican life, so my time is actually farther stretched than some much younger folks in the college scene. All to say I do not need more parish involvement presently.
In any case I have not found that being involved in parish activities meets the needs in my life to simply chat and get to know others. Perhaps if I was married, had 10 grand-babies or loved football, it might. Or possibly if I was not so busy running from job to job that I nap many evenings and wake up at 2 AM it could also. The social life for us who are busy, single and permanently celibate can be close to nil sometimes. That is not meant as a complaint but rather simply a fact of life. His suggestion betrayed to me a very polite way of saying “f—k off” please and very honestly felt somewhere between condescending and downright demeaning. As an aside one of the parishes I am a part of (I currently attend two) has an “over 50” group. That too should theoretically be “ideal” for me, at least one would think so. However they meet during daytime hours just once a month and on a weekday! I would actually have to miss work to attend. Again good intentions but my age group and demographic was very unintentionally passed by.
I am neither JP2 nor Mother Teresa. But I think my perspectives are often spot on, and if not I am willing to grow and listen to new and fresh thoughts and re-think my opinions. I have changed greatly both in my religious and political preferences in the last 6 years. Being around younger people is what frankly keeps me from feeling deceased before my time. I believe in this generation and am drawn towards the energy and zeal that I see in them. I understand the huge investment that the Church needs to make in future generations—something that was sorely missing when I was growing up. Blessed John Paul II saw this need and created World Youth Day as a result. And he incidentally did so while a senior citizen! So I get that part. They are the future and I am rapidly becoming the past.
Another aspect of this is that my four children (in heaven via miscarriages) are almost exactly the age of some of those who I tend to befriend on here or other online venues, and I am sure that sense of the paternal figures in to some extent. Being allowed to occasionally be a “father figure” to someone is a great gift to me, and hopefully to them as well. But the two persons I mentioned earlier do not know any of this about me and pointedly expressed their preferences to keep me at a safe distance, so they do not and will not probably ever see those other sides of who I am. Nor will either of them most likely read this article for that matter, even though both have been invited to this blog even since the events which occurred between us. I am “old” in their eyes so, to some extent anyway, I am invisible. Then again perhaps, in reality, it may be they who have lost their sight. It is hard to say since I after all wear the bifocals in this case.
Many people have expressed to me that the story of my return to the Church is “inspiring” and have often told me so, including the two persons I am writing about. But that falls short of wishing to connect with me on any personal level. I for instance happened to notice a photo of a beautiful Black Lab on the FB page of one of them. He has no idea how much I too love dogs. Or what music I like. Or if some other part of my own journey to the Faith might help him out. His assumption that we have no common interests is an unwarranted and quite possibly inaccurate one besides. Age does actually bring wisdom on occasion and we can all acquire knowledge from others. It is unlikely that we will ever meet in person, but that does not make me less “real” or diminish my importance. In short I am more than a name or white bearded profile picture on a blog or FB page, or for that matter even an intriguing story to tell while warming by the online cyber-campfires! In short I am human and have something to offer.
In 2005 I met a young man in his 20s in the Catholic area of Yahoo Chat (that was when people still used Yahoo). We found out that we both were named Richard, and both of us were preparing to be confirmed into the Catholic Church on the same night, Easter of 2006, although in different states—he in Michigan and myself here in MN. I never was privileged to meet Richard, but when he was diagnosed with stomach cancer 2 years later we spent many, many hours, often late at night, on the phone, just talking about anything and everything and often praying together. My own crucifix, a small gift to him, was used on the casket at his funeral. And I know he now prays for me from his place on the other side. I will forever be a better person for having known him, and am glad he did not say to me or me to him “well you live too far away for us to pursue a friendship.” His bravery at the end of his life gave me courage I will likely one day draw upon when my own time comes. I pray so anyway.
Rich did not give a damn that I was 25 years his senior. He didn’t care. I did not mind that he lived across the country and probably had different views on some issues than me. We connected as humans and brothers—no more and no less. And I think it is a sad sign of the times that people find such connections more and more difficult, ironically at a time when technology allows them in such an unprecedented way. We often miss the boat even when it sails directly past us.
As to my new “online acquaintances,” particularly the first one I wrote about, I think we may yet find, in time, that we do have things to share with one another. I truly hope so. To his absolute credit he spent a fair amount of his valuable time discussing it with me via email and I think well of him both for his candor and his efforts. My belief is that we both grew from the situation. And, if not, I cannot fundamentally change another’s overall feelings or views, so sulking about it or dropping my FB account is likely an overreaction and ironically denying myself the pleasure of so many others who do not view me as he obviously did or possibly still does. But to say it didn’t sting—and hard—would be a lie. And, of the two of us, I might dare suggest perhaps that he, not me, was the one acting “old.”
And old people really do make me weary.