Day Thirty-One – Remember You are Dust!
Question: The Rule is frank about a range of feelings in relation to the challenges of illness and death, including the recognition that one of the hardest challenges of the vowed life comes when a Brother needs full time nursing care. Do this represent a kind of memento mori (remember your mortality) for the Brothers?
Br. Eldridge Pendleton: In one sense, yes, it does. We all know we’re going to die, but not too many of us live as if we actually believe it. For me, it’s one thing to talk about the things we do in the chapters on the challenges of sickness (46, 47), but, like so much about the spiritual life, it’s another thing to live it. In our discussions, when we made mention of the possibility of a Brother needing to live apart from the Community, I thought, “This is good—but I hope that’s never me!” And yet, here I am. Personally, it was hard, coming to a place of freedom, to move into assisted living and nursing care. And yet, if I had it to do all over again, I would have come a year earlier than I did. I miss daily contact with the Community and the worship, of course, but this move has been such a grace for me, and these chapters in the Rule helped me to pray my way through what was a very difficult transition.
Wow! Thanks for sharing a glimpse of your personal story here, Br. Eldridge.
Secular culture has not given us the grace to grow older with dignity. The feeling is that the elderly, of which we are all too quickly becoming ourselves, are no longer valued for their wisdom and experience. I watch in dread as older employees are pushed out earlier and earlier in favor of hiring new and younger employees…and that’s just in our local churches. It’s even worse in the corporate world!
I thank God that in one small way he has given us the grace to grow older with dignity through SSJE: Through these chapters in the Rule, through shared life in a retreat, through various published sermons that have touched on this topic, through meditations like this one, I have witnessed this grace. Just the fact that you can relate your personal experience from “outside” of the cloister, in a new assisted-living community, to me, 2,000 miles away, through the often impersonal internet, is so very generous on your part (and not at all impersonal to me).
What amazing love you and all your brothers at SSJE have shown us, in the wider circles of friends and FSJ, by keeping us connected to you as you live into chapters 46 and 47, and to brother Paul, last year, as he lived into chapters 48 and 49. We all must live into these final four chapters of the Rule, and I thank SSJE for providing a witness on how to do this with dignity.
Soon, I will be faced with placing a parent, who will go kicking and screaming all the way, into assisted-living or nursing care because secular culture has stripped him of all perceived dignity in growing older. Through your witness and God’s love, I hope that I can add grace and dignity to his experience and keep him connected to his family. Through your witness, I hope that I can live into these final four chapters in God’s grace and personal dignity, humbly, and not kicking and screaming all the way myself.