There is a time that comes, sometimes brazenly and loud, but usually softly and unnoticeable, stealing up behind, whispering over one's shoulder. I remember when that time came for my great-grandmother. Dementia and a tired body slowly over took her and so I began to drive over to my grandma's house, whom she lived with, and take care of her several days a week. I remember bathing and feeding her. It was considerably hard at the beginning to intimately take care of someone who you've known forever, someone who had been healthy, physically and mentally, not too long before. Her mind came and went during those days. I still remember the time she panicked while I bathed her, yelling at me, "Get out of here you ugly boy!" I felt such pity for her; what horror there is in not being able to control yourself or your mind! "Nana, it's just me," I'd tell her. But, she didn't recognize me anymore.

A couple days ago she passed away. In her last days she had steadily declined, deteriorating rapidly, having contracted an appalling gum disease, creating abscesses which exuded blood constantly. She was a shadow, an almost literal shell of who she was, or used to be. On heavy medication and in a nebulous state of unconsciousness she seemed to wait, anticipating being released.

And so, finally she was.

From watching her life unwind over the years, and becoming acquainted with the residents at her nursing facility, and just from general observation, I find myself hopelessly disgusted; bitterly disgusted with degeneration. Hateful of entropy. Despising of broken, moth-eaten death.

And still, out of the frost distorted ground, I find pillars of courage standing, solemnly.

My mother spoke with many of the nurses who attended my great-grandmother and she re-counted to me their heroic biographies. One RN related that she grew up with a mother who was a nurse at a nursing home; she said her mother delighted in her work. Thus she grew up wanting to be a nurse and work there as well, because of her mother's example. Another nurse said,

"Some people love to work at birthing centers, with babies. But I prefer to work with the people leaving the world. It is just as much an honor to work with them as with those just entering the world. It is a privilege."

Surrounded by ugliness, that day when my great-grandma died, so much beauty shone around, that one could have been blinded by it. There was such a bright and colored contrast between death and darkness and the insatiable joy of loving another person. Why then is there cause for sadness, when such joy is painted like a infinite mural, teaching us how to really love?


I was driving home from the store yesterday, listening to the radio. On one of the regular stations there was the most ignobly ridiculous discussion taking place, but I guess since it was evening it was permissible, being after hours. Anyway, whatever. The discussion was about the unconditional right of a woman to have frequent one night stands under the guise of "liberation" and equality with men. Of course, this isn't new, but just listening to that gal trying to defend and advocate habitual-- but not too habitual-- sexual experiences under the pretense of "equality" was rather fascinating. She explained that one of the disadvantages to this freeing concept was the fact that sexual intimacy "bonds individuals emotionally" (duh) and in an effort to avoid that nasty aspect of the one night stand scenario the woman has to be very careful getting in and out of there, quickly. But still she encouraged it saying, "Our culture has changed! No longer is it unacceptable for men and women to go out seeking an occasional sexual experience. No longer is it viewed as risqué or indecent, especially for women." Oh, what a relief. I was thinking our culture was getting a little too moral there for a while.

What I found so riveting was her lack of orientation in her reasoning, she adamantly wanted to demonstrate that all "women are just as much in control of their bodies as men are," yet she wound up floundering around in the sea of sexual wantonness in efforts to back up her allegiance. The discussion oscillated between "yes, go and get 'em tiger" and "but not too often;" she seemed to know there was supposed to be a balance someplace, but didn't quite know where and thus ended up promoting blatant promiscuity. I found that I wasn't just frustrated with her rather loose concept of virtue, but that she phlegmatically dumbed down sex to such a primordial level. She tore down the sacredness, the essence of such intimacy and flung it in the dog's bowl and rang the bell for dinner. As she desperately tried to make her point, she ended up rather illustrating how foolish and unbeautiful the concept of illicit relationships are. Sometimes I can't help but wish we were living back in the Victorian era.


O God! You ask the deepest darkest things.
You blind with light more frightening than dark.
You tell me: Fly! And then you give no wings.
Your sharp sword pierces as it hits the mark.
You gave me love as human as earth
And earth to earth you've gone as all must go.
So we are torn apart twixt tears and mirth
And where your you has gone I do not know.
Oh, God! your loneliness came into flesh.
You taught us love as you let all love go,
And with your life our lives are deep enmeshed.
We know you as we know we do not know.
Oh, God! you ask us all to be like you,
And what you love will truly be made new.

-Madeleine L'Engle


The Wetlands

Near twilight I saw the eburnean swans weaving in and out of the rushes. I watched them swim, ducking, heads and feathers wet; nonchalantly glancing at me as they plaited little paths in the still lake. Behind them sat the monarchy of trees, their holy arms outstretched, moving un-anxiously in the small wind. Above us all, suspended on a string, lay the broad, glassy expanse of mist and haze and the breath of the birds.


A traveler on a dusty road
Strewed acorns on the lea;
And one took root and sprouted up,
And grew into a tree.
Love sought its shade at evening time,
To breathe its early vows;
And Age was pleased, in heights of noon,
To bask beneath its boughs.

(Charles MacKay)

It was Seneca, the Roman statesman, who wrote that wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness. No selfless act is insignificant. I was thinking of this today, in terms of the aged. Sadly, how often I've seen an older person, slow with age and infirmity, looked down upon with disdain by a fresh and young face. Perhaps instead of becoming impatient with the elderly woman attempting to open the door, perhaps, just perhaps, you could graciously open and hold the door for her?

I am reminded of a story by the Brothers Grimm that stirred my little heart when I was a child. The story was about a feeble old woman whose husband died and left her alone, and so she went to live with her son and his wife and their little daughter. Every day her sight dimmed and her hearing grew worse and sometimes at dinner "her hands trembled so badly the peas rolled off her spoon or the soup ran from her cup." Her son and his wife couldn't help but be annoyed, so one day after she knocked over a glass of milk, they decided to do something about it. They ended up setting a small table for her in the corner, next to the broom closet. She sat there alone, "looking with tear-filled eyes across the room at the others." The story goes on to tell that one evening right before dinner the little daughter was on the floor playing with her blocks and her father asked what she was making.
"I'm building a little table for you and mother," she smiled, "so you can eat by yourselves in the corner someday when I get big."
I think this story will become more and more meaningful to us the older we grow. While we ourselves are young, we must teach ourselves and our youth to appreciate and respect the aged. We must not slip out of opportunities to encourage our elders-- we need to show them our love when we can. I wonder what our youth of today will think when they become advanced in age, I wonder how their youth will treat them?