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Further thoughts this year of older persons

The enthusiastic response to a Perspectives column on older persons published in the May 28 issue confirmed the view that the elderly are unsung national treasures. Activist Vic Hummert wrote a haiku from Louisiana:

Fear not old age
Since life in the Spirit
Like wine is best later

“I am a 91-year-old Sister of Mercy,” wrote Sr. Mary David Lucier from New Hampshire. “In my long life I have taught every grade from kindergarten to college English and worked 21 years among the indigent of South Carolina. I am now in a nursing home using a walker because of a broken hip. I write letters, read worthwhile books, see quite well and refuse to give up easily.”

Lucier is, as we noted in an earlier issue, a revolutionary. So much happened in her life, big or small, a million things each day, literally, thoughts, desires, encounters, pain or victory, surprises or old routines: In a wasteful world that whole reservoir of experience, of living, of memories goes poof when we die, blown on the wind, buried in the ground -- unless of course we are able to hold on to every bit of it and raise it up with us and carry it to a higher level and put it to some new purpose or enjoyment. In short, there better be some kind of a heaven.

But it would be equally disastrous to wait for hereafter. We squander so much of our time and, especially, energy waiting for the future. Frank Canatella sent in a poem he wrote in middle age when he was a little more than half his present age:


this stingy parceling out of life?
I wanted mine all at once!

So I thought.
My timid eyes reached out for the counterpart of my
yet frightened that I should find it.

Instead I found other eyes
reaching out of empty places.

cosmic joke is this
born to a hunger for which there is no

The undertow of oblivion pulled me
to an alternative respite.
Still, in each eye I sought fullness
while I dangled
a yo-yo of despair and hope
looking ahead into the cursed darkness
till one day I chanced to look behind
where life had been.

In my frantic gropings
I had seized life without recognition
in my rage I had used it without knowing.

Alas, life is the struggle for it.
Life is too much to have all at once.

Fear of not having life
becomes fear of wasting
moments to enrich and
riches to fill them.

Now, I stand in line in this slow time
eagerly awaiting what once seemed such

The valleys fill
as the hills erode.

Several readers called in search of the Vatican’s document to commemorate the Year of Older Persons, “The Dignity of Older People and Their Mission in the Church and in the World.” This can now be found on NCR’s Web site: http://www.natcath.com/NCR_Online/documents/index.htm

Our prison story is a somber reminder of how much the American dream is just that.

While the nation’s prisons remain a necessary evil, we confront the incongruous task of making them somehow humane and ministering to the human wreckage of this imperfect society.

Prison ministry is a worthwhile and difficult calling. Two books on the subject happened to come in as we were going to press. This is not a review, just a notice that such books are out there.

Voices of a Prison Ministry, by Sr. Josephine Migliore, with David T. Whitaker (Bonus Books Inc., 160 E. Illinois St., Chicago IL 60611, $14.95). Migliore, 84, has been visiting the notorious Cook County Correctional Center for 14 years. She shares her experiences and letters and other writings received from inmates.

Inside the Fence: A Handbook for Those in Prison Ministry, by Fr. David M. Schilder (Alba House, Society of St. Paul, Staten Island NY; $12.95). Schilder has spent 18 years as a chaplain in two state prisons.

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, July 2, 1999