Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It Doesn't Take Long To Get Old

It Doesn't Take Long To Get Old

By Paul Dion, STL

It has been nearly two years since I last came to you with my spiritual musings. While I was away, I dedicated myself to earning a living the only way I know how. HARD WORK. As it turns out, Mother Nature gave me a lesson in prudence and common sense. 72 year old people can't do what 32 year old people can.  Here is my first meditation in a long time.
I thought I would share my experience of getting old quickly, not necessarily graciously. In fact my sons tell me that grace, respect and elegance were the least of the qualities that shaped my "getting old" experience. Now that it is behind me and now that I am officially old, and still recuperating from the physical and emotional torture, I will tell you the story before I go back to work in the secular world.

June of 2008 was a nasty month. I was let go from a nice job for fabricated reasons, and in favor of a less competent replacement. Never one to let management gloat, I went out and found work inside of a month. It was a different world. I went from teaching, writing and planning Church events to driving an airport shuttle van six and one-half days a week, never less than fourteen hours on the full days.

Then, Providence smiled on me and a fellow parishioner offered me a job opportunity in a medical transportation company. I passed all the tests (including the physicals) and all the interviews. I liked the people in the management and I liked the drivers who were soon to become my colleagues. So, in January of 2009 I went from driving fourteen to 18 hours a day to just ten or twelve, and those were the "long" days. I was thrilled to learn that Sundays were non-working days. Talk about hitting the jackpot.

On January 7, 2009, I hit the road for my training period with the senior partner of the firm. After a couple days I received my official employee identification badge. My number? 007. A license to kill! At the time little did I know that I would be the victim.

In the middle of the second week of training, I soloed. I was off and running. I weighed 170 pounds. I know that I made at least my share of dumb rookie mistakes. The management corrected those that they could and learned to live with the rest. I passed the probationary period test (6 months) and was kept on. The company was growing, so the decision to keep me was perhaps made a little bit easier because of that. It was during this growth period that the first customer with pre-dawn needs to be picked-up and brought to early morning dialysis treatments engaged our services.

I quickly volunteered to do that work. I had two reasons: a] at my age (72), getting up at 2:30 AM won't be hard, and b] by doing what no one else wants to do, I'll have job security. You oldies who are reading this, know exacty what I mean. So I did it. Soon we went from having one or two such passengers to having four or five or more. Six days a week we had a van (mostly mine) enjoying having all the city streets quasi empty and all the traffic lights on the major thoroughfares green at 4:00 AM. It was fun. Plus, most passengers are a lot more loquacious at 4:00 AM than they are later in the day.

I did this until February 6, 2010. On Monday, February 8, I called in sick because I could hardly move from a generalized gout attack. I sat around the house all day. I crawled around the house in pain for two days. My mother-in-law died on February 12, in San Diego. We went. I could not drive. Belle, (my beloved spouse) fresh from surgery, drove. We viewed her mother before the morticians took possession of the body. She stayed in San Diego and our elder son drove me back to Kaiser Urgent Care in Riverside.

I was getting old fast. After one hour, the doctors confined me to the hospital. I had to be wheeled to my bed. I will spare you the physical, mental and emotional adventures of my stay. Five days later I would be discharged from the hospital, a frail invalid of 132 pounds who could not do anything for himself. Now, that is old. Two weeks before my 73rd birthday. Did I get old graciously? Let me quote my son; "Pa, you must be the first person ever to get expelled from a hospital." (February 18, 2010)

"Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." (Job 1; 21)
I remember some of the thoughts that I had while in the hospital, most of them while I was lying on my back convinced that I would not be able to walk out on my own steam. I would say to myself, "What am I doing here? Is this what it is to be in the hospital? Why am I here, there isn't anything that can be done to make me better?"

Then I would turn my head and see my elder son, sitting in vigilance by the bedside. He was the priest that God had given me for the first three days of my stay. I would say to myself, "There are no words of gratitude in human language to express the emotions that I feel in seeing my son offering the sacrifice of love that I am presently witnessing." In the moments of lucidity that I had (very few over a period of more than ten days) I would tell him the same thing.

When his younger brother came to replace him, I told him the same thing. He turned it back on me and said, "You expect me to believe you while you're 'out of it'?" I actually remember laughing weakly at that.

Over the years I have suffered fiery physical pain from chronic gout. It was never as vicious as what incapacitated me during February and March of 2010. Over the same period of time I have learned the truth about incapacitation and pain. It's not mine to own, it's not mine to keep. Job, the foreigner, and Jesus, the God-obeying, Spirit-filled Jew, both knew that. Our human difficulties are our gift/sacrifice to God. Our bodies are the altar of the sacrifice where pain is offered to God so that he can use it to bring someone else's life closer to His.

We say that pain and suffering are part of life. True. I firmly believe that pain and suffering are natural and supernatural realities of human life. Just like the grain of wheat has to die before growing and producing; just as the lamb has to die before becoming the protein and sustenance of other life, the part of our death that we feel in pain and suffering belongs to God so that He can harvest it and sustain another of His disciples in righteousness.

It has been about one month now that I have been perceptibly becoming more and more "normal", physically and emotionally. The doctors have been doing marvels. My indomitable competitive nature has not been shy about twisting God's arm to make Him make me a stronger missionary for His cause. I tell Him, "You kept me alive, so now make me better so that I can work for you. I don't mind the pain, take it, it's all yours. Oh, by the way, any time you want to invite me to take a walk with you back to the Garden of Eden, I'm ready. Just say the word." (Read Genesis, chapter 5, verses 23 and 24. I pray for that grace every day.)

I leave you with the simple thoughts expressed above. I hope that they will serve as food for thought. Low calorie, low cholestrol and sugar-free, of course.

I have gone back to the things I like. Sunday RCIA sessions for adults, writing for and preparing 90 minute conferences for adults on Biblical and Theological topics. Finally, I am hoping to be back at work in a week or two. I crossed the Red Sea into Old Age as a grouch. I am working at polishing my attitude and regaining my sense of humor. I count on you to pray for me and to refrain from crying at my funeral.