Today’s mantra proclaims the value of “Living in the Moment”. Yesterday is gone: Forget it! Tomorrow may never come: Why worry? This state, it suggests, is particularly suited for the elderly.
Having just reached four-score years and ten, I qualify as elderly. (Indeed, I note that the Bible suggests I have lived about as long as one can reasonably expect to! Nonetheless, the Bible also tells stories of many individuals who far exceeded this milestone. Perhaps longevity is not a “one size fits all” phenomenon.)
No one can speak for all elderly people, any more than for other groups. I speak, therefore, only for myself. My credentials? Only these: my years of living and where my musings have taken me. And when it comes to Living in the Moment, “That’s only part of the picture!” I plead.
In addition to being elderly, I live among old people. A recent light-hearted, humorous breakfast conversation was not atypical. At a table of six, someone mentioned a radio program from the twenties. Between the six of us we were able to piece together the program’s opening lines, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” Then followed the same for Amos and Andy, Laurel and Hardy and others. We remembered how our imaginations enabled us to “see” the stories as they unfolded, the pleasure they gave us.
How long those memories have survived! Such, I propose, is a healthy revisiting of the past, and harvesting insights for understanding the present. As James Barrie said, “God gave us memories so that we might have roses in December.” For me, living only in the present robs us of Barrie’s roses, which so enrich our daily lives.
Yet the past can become a source, not of delight, but of regret, even depression. In my varied group of peers I see these things in common:
– A quiet acceptance of one’s mortality
– The ability to enjoy many things
– A minimum of discussing their health problems
– Kindness to one another
And – A deep loneliness.
My respect for my peers is well founded. On the other hand, I discern in my peers (and in myself!) a tendency to spend more time discussing the past than the present, and to compare the good of the past with the ills of the present.
There is a route I take on my evening walk. Around a school property, up a steep incline it goes, to a spot where I pause for a rest. Sitting there on my walker a few nights ago, it was a magical moment. Not a breath of wind, the evening sunlight shining on the far city and the snow-capped mountains beyond. Below me on the wide grassy lands of the school a huge tree was still in bloom. So still, not a sound, as if the world had paused to hold its breath. The beauty I experienced in that moment was so intense it hurt.
In that moment, I felt the presence of my niece.
She picked up people as easily as a magnet picks up pins. Who could resist her buoyant spirit, her mischievous grin, her zest for today? No Pollyanna here – the nitty-gritty of life had often marked her path. Her childhood and early adulthood contained hurts, heartaches and experiences which would have been difficult for ones far more experienced. When she was only a little older than a child, her parents died. Fortunately, her older brother and his family stood with her as she moved on.
Her life’s work was spent with vulnerable people, including adults and children. She handled her vocation as she did life – with enthusiasm, enjoyment and practical good sense. Life eventually included a home, a much loved partner, even plans for their eventual retirement.
But as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” On March 12th 2012, Anne Elizabeth Carscadden died at the age of 48, felled by a swift-moving cancer. Her partner and the Carscadden family accompanied every step of her last journey. During one of the long nights, Anne and her partner were planning her funeral. When asked what she wanted to tell her friends, the answer came quickly.
“Tell them to be aware. Life is precious, every day, every place, every person, everything that happens. Life is precious. Don’t waste a moment of it. Even the hard things have value. Live fully every hour of every day.”
As we heard these words at her funeral, we could see Anne, we could hear her laugh. We could hear, too, the roar of her motorcycle as she raced down the highway, and the excited laughter of the wee ones as she arrived at the daycare.
Everyone is unique, but Anne touched more lives than most of us do. She could be the Poster Girl for the elderly, reminding us that life is good and to be valued – always – even when it is difficult.
Sitting on that small hill as the light faded around me, I spoke to Anne.
“That’s what you meant, Anne – wasn’t it? Keep reminding me. These moments keep me balanced. I live with deep loneliness, most of we old folks do. It is so easy to forget to collect the golden moments of every day, but they are there for the taking. Good night, my dear. I’ll meet you again along my path.”
My thanks to Don Carscadden. As spokesman for the Pinch and Carscadden families, he gave his approval for Anne’s story to be used in her honour.