Here's a life situation. You're middle class, 55 and your husband has just passed away. Your children need your help raising your grandchildren. Your parents are 93 and 94 respectively and your mother is in the middle stage of dementia. You feel you have to do everything for them because if you didn't, who would? The hospice pastor who helped you through your recent bereavement talks to her husband, who talks to the SOOPers, and a gang of us head off early in the morning to clean up the elderly parents' yard and pick up the pecans that should have been harvested in November.
The old lady doesn't want us messin' in her flowerbeds, but the old man and his daughter placate her when she tells one of us to "stay outta my flower beds!" We rake and dig and carry detritus to the dumpster for a few hours. At coffee time, I mistake three circling turkey vultures for bald eagles (where's Wally when you need him?).
The old man hobbles out with his walker to show us where the lawn mower is kept. "Don't pay to get old," he tells me. "I'm 94." I remember a friend back home who died about a year ago saying as he dealt with continuous pain and the inconveniences surrounding kidney failure, "If I'd know old age was so much trouble, I wouldn't have bothered!" In the case of the latter, it was a continuation of this friend's love of the ironic jest, but both of them, I think, were telling me that it might be better to die "in the saddle," as it were, than to linger on until you're barely a shell of what you used to be. Maybe we're so focused on living as long as possible that we don't consider a life left before the proverbial "three score and ten" to be a tragedy.
Amzie has told us a lot about Guatemala and Honduras, places where he and Elena have lived and worked. When he talked about the injustice practiced against the people in these places, I asked him if he was ever tempted to give up his pacifist moral stand. "Never," he said, and he told us about a couple of instances where people had defied the military, unarmed and enmass, and had persuaded the government to curtail the military encroachment on their villages. "Sometimes some people have to die when they defy authority and stand up for what's right," he said, "but the numbers of dead would be far greater if they were to take up arms." He's right, of course, and I wonder if leaving life early in such a cause is not a nobler thing than being careful to stay well as long as possible and to live through a century. We need to teach our children to be courageous in support of the right, and not so much to develop those skills and find those places where they personally remain safe.
On Wednesday, a friend of the SOOPers and a former Lutheran pastor invited us all over to see a video he had recorded of an episode in the Glenn Beck show. Glenn Beck is a right wing media guru who believes that the rise of Muslim extremism is comparable to the rise of Naziism in Germany in Hitler's time. His view is that unless we crush that movement, we are doomed. He was interviewing a Muslim of the reformist stripe and questioning her about the whole business of extremisim, women in Isalm, etc.
It was a revealing interview. Islamic reformists take responsibility for the extremism and believe that Islam is overdue for some fundamental work on interpreting the Koran, which, she says, has ten times as many verses advocating independent, rational thought than it has verses regarding the defense of Islam against the infidel. How like the Bible this is. We too can find the few verses that seem to support suppression of gays, military intervention, hoarding of wealth while overlooking the core of our gospel: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and your neighbour as yourself.
A week today we leave Carlsbad and arrive home around April 1 via Alamogordo, Sedona, Grand Canyon, Salt Lake City, Great Falls, Calgary, Edmonton and Waldheim. I hope there'll be some snow to greet us when we arrive (not!); it was +88F in Carlsbad yesterday and they're telling us it will be like that most of next week.
Meanwhile, take care, friends, and age gracefully, if you can.