AND YOUTHFUL ILLUSIONS
…and, O yes, the Intruder Death
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 be! 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
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
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 win, and if winning is not forthcoming
through reason, then duress will do nicely.
This is the state of affairs in American (and European) society and
public discourse — which is dangerously encroaching upon private discourse
understood as “incorrect” thinking, or in a more abusive sense, thought-control,
at least as it 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 now 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. "Would
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
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 pay a fortune to hide them under the “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 our inheritance: the
house we grew up in (and which the Nursing Home or Assisted Care Facility
legally demands, unless we wish to pay several thousands of dollars
a month to maintain them there at our own expense) in the happy days
of our youth when we were not as burdensome to our parents
as they are now to us ... the Savings Account into which
they placed the money they toiled for and for so many years —
that one day we may have that start in life they never
did ... but it is little to relinquish, 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 "developed" world 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 prestige and power
in the work-place, and with possessing the 8 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,
through whom we are, are little more than impedimenta. We don't
want them and we do not want to be like them. 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 gray thread of hair, that line in our
face that 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” of the 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 — "As you 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 celerity 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
Your 10th high school reunion will leave you unsettled. Your 20th will
appall you. How did they all lose their beauty so quickly
… except you?
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 save the world. Or, for that matter,
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.
Boston Catholic Journal
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