Saturday, June 2, 2012

Pilgrim Paths: Walking and Talking and Silence

I'm here, dear friends, gentle readers, fellow pilgrims.  Here and moving slowly.  As you know, I tagged along on a trip to Houston with Steve last week, one that spanned the Memorial Day weekend, to visit my uncle who recently turned 92.

Then, after we had returned home late this Tuesday night, and I spent the following day unpacking and mustering energy after a long afternoon and night of flying to and fro, I decided I needed to cook some dishes that would include favorite items of my aunt.  And as Steve and I were on our way to her house to bring a meal to her, we got a call from his brother telling us she had fallen.  She fell early this past week, but told no one about the fall until Steve's brother happened to call her midweek.

She didn't contact Steve and me because we were out of town, and didn't want to bother us with worrisome information when we'd just gotten back home.  I also suspect she feels somewhat abandoned when we're away from home, and I can understand that feeling a bit.  I can understand because Steve and  are I ourselves now reaching an age at which we see with new experiential eyes what it means to grow old and not have strong support from younger family members.  It's easy for the elderly to be overlooked and taken for granted in our individualistic culture in which we're not taught to recognize the connections between us and them--especially when "them" is a group with less access to power and privilege than our group has.

And then this happened: on our way back home from visiting my aunt, begging her to eat some of the food we'd brought, seeing that she set up a doctor's appointment and putting it on our calendar, Steve and I stopped at our neighborhood post office to mail a package to my uncle and cousin in Houston, and bumped into an elderly neighbor of ours about whom I blogged on new year's day this year.  And found she has been in the hospital for over two weeks with a serious illness, and had told no one in the neighborhood.

My aunt and the neighbor are the same age: 84.  Our neighbor's only son has predeceased her, as has her husband.  My aunt's ex-husband is also dead, and their son lives at a distance from his mother.  Our neighbor's parting words to Steve and me when we talked to her at the post office: "Can you please some over for a visit on the weekend?  I have some legal documents I'd like for you to witness."  An ominous request, since I think I can guess what kind of documents she's been drawing up.

And so life has been busy this week teaching me some lessons I evidently need to relearn or learn better than I've learned them in the past: how, as George Washington Carver stresses, we need to be "tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong," because someday we're likely to have been all of these in our own lives.  In particular, life is reminding me of how many people in our society face their final years relatively alone, frightened, lacking the support they need as they take the ultimate steps of their life journeys.

And it's reminding me that if I expect support for Steve and me as we age--even from the kindness of strangers--I need to be more attuned to the needs of elders I claim to value, some of whom are right in my neighborhood and family circle.  I need to stretch my imagination to understand what it feels like to find oneself alone, frightened, imagining that one doesn't count for anyone in the world.

Where those elders now walk, I can easily be walking myself in a few years.

Hence my silence these past days: a silence that has led to meditative spaces and more than a little sadness at seeing an aunt and uncle whom I've known as vital, strong people and important presences in my life begin to grow feeble, dependent on others for care.  A quite specific sadness that the world we've built is one that does so little to assist and value these elders--though my uncle is fortunate to have his son on hand, and my cousin deserves great credit for his faithful love and assistance to both of his parents in their senior years.

My sadness is compounded by a strong sense of futility and intense alienation as I read recent news of my faith community, about which I think to blog, but which then repulses me so much when I try to gather words to talk about the news, I end up choosing silence instead.  Topics I'm following and about which I have some thoughts, if I can regain my voice in the coming days:

1. The lamentable, corrosive lie of the USCCB president Cardinal Dolan about his knowledge of pay-offs made to priests abusing minors in the Milwaukee diocese, to encourage those priests to disappear quietly; 
2. Archbishop Sartain's recent statement about his role as inquisitor of American religious women; 
3. Peter Steinfels's recent essay on religious liberty at Commonweal.

Perhaps I'll find words to talk about some or all of those topics in the near future.  I'm particularly disconcerted by the special pleading that continues to go on among many "liberal" Catholics at sites like Commonweal on behalf of Cardinal Dolan, even when he has spectacularly lied about his knowledge of pay-offs to priests abusing minors.  As I've said over and over on this blog, I expect these educated, academically astute and media-connected Catholics to do better and know better.

The suggestion of a number of contributors in the thread to which I've just pointed readers that a blatant lie by the head of the national Catholics bishops' conference shouldn't count or is a minor thing, and that anyone trying to call Cardinal Dolan to accountability for his lie about his knowledge of pay-offs is a disaffected Catholic attacking the Catholic church, is offensive in the extreme.  This suggestion implies that it's not a big deal if we become a people of the lie, telling slippery, oily untruths to smooth our way through controversial places like the abuse crisis.

A people of the lie has nothing of value to offer to the world as a sacramental sign of God's all-embracing salvific love in the world.  That highly placed Catholics with heads on their shoulders and academic degrees are apparently unable to see this speaks volumes, it seems to me, about how little many "liberal" Catholic academic and media spokesperson in the U.S. understand what catholicity is all about in its core meaning.

Meanwhile, please know I'm here and thinking, reading, and praying, if not always opening my mouth to yammer on this blog in the last several days.

And now I'll post separately something important a valued reader of Bilgrimage has sent me just yesterday.

The graphic is a shot of a solitary pilgrim from Andrei Tarkovsky's film "The Stalker," at Bernard Vehmeyer's b r n r blog site.

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