In 1984 my mother came for a visit and never left – her health declined suddenly and then chronically. She stayed with us for the next 10 months until she died. She was 82 – my age as I write this piece.
My husband and I are currently “snowbirds” in Florida; each year we rent a condo on the beach. In our condo this year, a wall of mirrors reaching from ceiling to floor extends all the way from the dining room into the living room. This was the decorating style of 30 years ago and it is easy to understand why it faded from popularity – I am constantly confronted with my physical self: a posture that needs correcting, or a pound that I may have gained.
The condo also seems to be a parking lot for unwanted furniture and belongings – eight bar stools crowd around a counter that only has room for three, a variety of eclectic kitchen appliances don’t seem to provide any real purpose, and the closets are stuffed with clothes and fishing equipment. It was not until November that we knew we could head to Florida in January so by that time the rental pickings were mostly gone.
The intrusive mirrors and objects all serve to remind me of time passing, of aging. The spectacular oceanfront view from the condo balcony feeds this introspective mood. The ocean is calm, wild, overwhelming, nourishing– as have been the seasons of my life.
My mother was an amazing woman – she and her twin sister attended Fordham Law School in the late 1920’s where she met my father. Mom graduated first in their law school class. My father used to proudly say that though Mom got the class prize for being first academically, but he really got the prize because he won her.
I do not know what the next weeks, months, or years will bring. My husband and I have taken a pledge that we are not allowed to fall – too many of our friends have seen their lives go into a downward spiral as a result of a fall – not that such a pledge is going to keep us from accidents but it has made us try to be more careful, more vigilant. It is very hard to lose friends, to see people we love decline physically or mentally or both. We lost a dear brother several years ago – that was hard. Not only was he a brother but he was a friend. When I was younger I think I took having friends for granted – not any longer. A friend is a precious gift to be cherished.
Church going in our area of Florida is popular. In Virginia we are part of a very welcoming, diverse parish called St. John Neumann. Diversity is very important to us. Toward the end of our snow-birding last year we finally found our Florida spiritual home. At Holy Family Church the 12 o’clock Mass on Sunday has a Mexican children’s choir that we wanted to share with some recent guests but other plans made it more convenient to attend the 5 on Saturday evening. We wanted our guests to have a good church experience but since we had never attended a Saturday service at this church we had our fingers crossed.
We needn’t have worried. Mass was a celebration for the Philippine members of the congregation. It was in English and in Tagalong. It was was impossible not to feel the universality of the Church. With all the scandals prevalent in the church today and the feeling of estrangement that can creep in, it was a blessing to feel a sense of belonging even when some of the words being used were not in my native tongue. The bright red blouses and shirts and vests of many of the congregants added to the specialness of the liturgy.
Many things stand out about Holy Family, perhaps the most important being the welcoming feeling that is pervasive in the smiles and greetings from staff and the congregation. It is a large church but the different masses that we have attended have all been crowded with a diverse population both in age and ethnicity.
I grew up in an Irish Catholic home where the words and actions of the Church were infallible. Though I do remember my mother was a daily reader of the Bible at a time when lay folks were discouraged from such activity – they were not thought to be educated enough to really grasp biblical meaning – my mother just dismissed this notion. It was not a church teaching that one had to follow – the Bible was just too important to her core beliefs. She was not “showy” in her Bible study but she was not hesitant to defend her daily program if the need arose.
With all the turmoil in the church today I have been doing a lot of thinking about my core beliefs and how I can continue to practice a religion that has been the breeding ground for sexual misconduct. The thought that sustains me is that this is also my church, that the actions of others can not diminish the comfort and joy I feel in participating in the Eucharist. I will not let the behavior of others rob me of my core.
In a few days we will be returning to our home in Northern Virginia and saying goodbye to our mirrored condo. These almost three months have been a good reflection time for me. This getting older is complicated. It brings with it the responsibility of showing those younger that aging has its blessings! There is still time for new learnings.
For the longest time I have wanted to learn Spanish. I am not very gifted in languages and I gave up on these studies because I was progressing so slowly. I have come to realize that my Spanish pursuits are for my own pleasure – now I am much more patient with myself and I am so pleased when I come across Spanish words or phrases in my reading that I am able to interpret.
There is a restaurant near our Florida condo that has a dance twice a month where they play Big Band music. The average age on the dance floor is probably mid-seventies. Couples in various stages of physical fitness crowd the dance floor. Several weeks ago the band singer asked us to stand aside and give the floor to a man and his partner while we all sang “Happy Birthday” to the man. He was turning ninety-six. It was so inspiring to see his enjoyment of this special occasion and he was a good dancer.
Getting older is scary. But within the confines of various health issues it is what we make of it! My faith, my family, my friends, and volunteering for causes I believe in – these have been the foundation for my adult life so far and I pray that I may continue to learn and grow with these as my building blocks.
And as I look into the cooky mirrors that are part of this rented condo I believe my physical posture has improved a bit in these past three months. And I think the same may be said for my mental outlook toward my 82nd birthday!