Realities and Youthful Illusions
… and, Oh yes, the Intruder
There are so many realities from which
we flee, pretending like children that if we do not acknowledge
them, then they will magically not come to pass! Denial of this
sort is the fragile fabric of innocence to which children have claim.
But we have long lost our innocence, even if we have not lost our
propensity for denial. If we can, with a studied face of factitious
perplexity, insist that we are absolutely clueless about when and
where human life begins (although, oddly, we have no doubts whatever
concerning this matter as it pertains to insects and other forms
of life) then I will insist that our penchant for denial is either
methodological or ideological, but in no way rational.
How often we insist that want to know the truth — even as our behavior
skillfully avoids it. What we really wish to know is what pleases
us, or what conforms to a passionate ideology, however flawed and
rationally unsustainable. In this sense we do not wish to know —
we wish to be ideologically re-affirmed.
This is the state of affairs in American (and European) society
and public discourse, which is dangerously encroaching upon private
discourse understood as “incorrect” and potentially irreformable
thinking in need of ideological reform, or in a more abusive sense,
indoctrination, for such thinking is susceptible to spilling over
into public utterances.
I should like to start with one of the less malignant forms of denial
in the face of conclusive reality.
There are so many inescapable truths that we sometimes simply wish
to put our head down and hide from them. In fact, we do — but only
for so long, knowing that one day we must come to terms with them,
and that the terms will not be congenial to us, and most definitely
not of our own making.
Let us examine one of them.
You will not always be young
One day you will
be that skeletonized body that quietly shuffles past us, bleached
white or in shades of gray — that man, that woman, whom our culture
of idolized youth dismisses, rather than honors … the walking dead
who do not know their day and that it is past … and who refuse to
leave the landscape of our idolatry unblemished. Old, often unsightly,
marred by life and drained of it by giving of it, and left weak,
they are a waste of “material resources” — especially money — that
should go to the living, which is to say, to the young, instead
of the dying, which is to say, the old.
that they just die and have done with it! It is what ... a day,
a month, a year at most? One less lesion on the yet unwithered flesh
of our still youthful illusions.”
Let us, then, build places for such “undesirables” and let us call
them Nursing Homes or “Assisted Care Facilities” where, yes, it
is true, we hide them under the “not-so-skilled” care of people
who cannot speak their language and who themselves are paid minimum
wage while the administrators and owners are paid handsomely and
rarely, if ever, smell the stench of urine that permeates the hallways.
We pay to hide them, and our own conscience, behind the lavish and
false promises of “a better life for them” that we ourselves could
not possibly provide, given our lavish lifestyle! And the cost?
Only your inheritance: the house we grew up (the State will require
reimbursement for the cost of institutionalizing your “loved one”
— to the tune of approximately $100,000 per year: divide that
into the value of your home!) In the happy days of our youth when
we were not as burdensome to our parents as they are
now to us ... such a sacrifice is a small price, to be sure, to
maintain our illusions of perpetual youth.
It is true that some of us, perhaps many of us, given the current
demographics in the
cannot, sincerely cannot, take care of our parents in their old
age. We do not have the medical skills, and since most households
have two working parents to make ends meet, we do not have the time
to devote to their care 24 hours a day. This is sadly true. And
none of us are blameworthy who come to this hard choice that most
often is no choice at all. It pains us. But it is equally true that
many who can take care of their parents in their own homes simply
do not wish to. It is a burden ... and an expense. And what will
become of our “careers”? In our obsession with beauty and “fitness”,
with power in the work-place, and with possessing the 6-bedroom
house that we never intend to fill with children (who, like our
parents, are a burden and an expense) we have time for neither:
the young nor the old.
The young we abstain from through contraception
and abortion — and the old are little more than impedimenta. We
say we love them, but we do not wish to sacrifice for them — who
sacrificed for us. We are young! It is our time! And
our time has come! But so will another ...
We are only deferring, staving off, the inevitable and we know it!
In them we see us ... and we are appalled! We look
through the family album and see mother when she was even more beautiful
and lissome than we could ever wish to be. And, good heavens! ...
is that handsome young man with the winsome smile and the tight,
narrow waist really our father?
We both relish
and fear such images.
We rush to the
mirror hoping not to find that first strand of gray hair, that first
line in our face that now lingers after we stop smiling — portents,
we know, of things to come. That will come. That must come! Even
as it came to our mothers and fathers — God rest their souls!
This generation is counting on science and not God; it is hoping
for the “breakthrough” to that elusive Fountain of Youth
that never existed and never will, in order to avoid old age and
death … and what is ineluctably beyond! It sees in the onset
of old age an ending, not a culmination, just as it
sees in the onset of death, corruption and not immortality!
Sum quod eris, fui quod sis
On the gravestones
of the dead — at least in preceding centuries when golf clubs and
guitars did not adorn monuments as the final aspirations of the
dead — we would often encounter a sober reminder etched both in
Latin and indelibly in our consciousness: Sum quod eris, fui
quod sis —
are I was; as I am you will be.” In other words, “I was just
like you and you will be just like me” … body under a gravestone
and soul? … well, elsewhere.
The “old” can say the same to us: As you are I once was; as I am
you will one day be — and if we are wise, we will listen. Yes, their
lives will pass in the twinkling of an eye. Perhaps tonight. And
so will ours — and although you do not see it now, the suddenness
will literally take your breath away!
But we are not wise and we will not listen. Our youth will pass
(indeed, have not some of those years fled us already?) — and with
our youth, our physical beauty. We will see it in others of our
age, but not in ourselves, despite changing metrics that do not
lie. “How much she has aged!” we silently appraise each other in
chance meetings and lie to each other’s faces: “You look absolutely
the same!” … when neither of us do.
Your 10th high school reunion will leave you unsettled. Your 20th
will appall you. How did they all lose their beauty so quickly …
Unless you are fetched off in your prime, you will grow old, you
will lose your beauty — and that brings us to the second Hard Saying:
one day you will die.
One day you will come to the sober realization that you (in all
your splendor and magnificence) cannot
“cannot make one hair white or black”
(Saint Matthew 5.36). Norr, for that
matter, can you save the whales, the Idaho Point-headed Grasshopper,
or the Flat Pigtoe clam. But you can save your soul
with the grace of God. The world will pass, and all within it, but
your soul will endure for all eternity. Only there will your
youth be renewed, for you will be made perfect in God — beautiful
without blemish, and incorruptible in Christ.
Only there will you finally encounter
that beauty for which you have so longed and which for so long has
eluded you: holiness! The imago Dei, the image of God Himself
within you, and in which you were created long before the deformity
of sin left you destitute.
Geoffrey K. Mondello
Boston Catholic Journal
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Totally Faithful to the Sacred
Deposit of Faith entrusted to the Holy See in
opera tua ... quia modicum habes virtutem, et servasti
verbum Meum, nec non negasti Nomen Meum”
know your works ... that you have but little power,
and yet you have kept My word, and have not denied My
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