October 2018

Joy in old age

What is joy? Is it the product of experience, or its source? I was stuck in heady questioning, and getting nowhere. Humble recourse to someone older and wiser was needed, writes Margaret-Mary Flynn.

BY Margaret-Mary Flynn

St Benedict opens his ‘little Rule’ by inviting us to listen and attend with the ear of the heart. I think perhaps my heart has a cloth ear, because at times I find myself saying, “What did you say?”

The muffled voice of the Holy Spirit must find its way through piles of undone tasks. I think I’m listening, only to discover that my attention has wandered, and the question of dinner, or watering the pot plants, is now front and centre.

I wanted to write about joy, but I needed inspiration. What is joy? Is it the product of experience, or its source? I was stuck in heady questioning, and getting nowhere. Humble recourse to someone older and wiser was needed, I felt.

I’ll visit Mum, I thought. See what she thinks.

It’s a fair way to Mum’s retirement home, and the highway winds past the goldfield towns, and farming landscape, and over the Great Divide. My mind rested peacefully as I drove the quiet road.

Over a pot of tea, we caught up with the family news. She writes articles for the in-house newsletter, and described being the roving reporter on a recent excursion, wearing her trench-coat and beret to gather material for the next edition.

Perhaps tea and cake sharpens the listening ear of the heart. I found myself asking her if she would write down a few words about joy in old age.

Mum is in her 80s, and her life has had its share of sorrow and challenge, as well as joys. She learned about suffering very early. When she was four years old, she spent many weeks in hospital recovering from appendicitis. She learned about grief not much later. Her mother died when she was nine, leaving her father to manage alone with two little children. She grew up in many different houses.

She has seven children, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. On a single income, money was often tight, and Mum could write the book on thrift. Yet she is always cheerful, and ready to laugh, making light of the daily struggle with the physical limitations of old age.

In due course, an article arrived, hand-written in fountain pen; a gentle reminder that the heart has not far to go after all, to hear the Holy Spirit speak of joy.

Joy in Old Age by Wilma Johnson, September 9, 2018

“The joy I experience in old age differs from that of my early childhood: the carefree abandonment to the thrill of rolling down a grassy slope, or the eager anticipation of opening my Christmas stocking and finding the much-coveted doll and other good things Father Christmas had left me, for instance. Nowadays, my joy is mixed with thankfulness, relief, a sense of beauty and a spiritual awareness of God’s bountiful loving kindness.

“I live in a retirement home and in winter I find joy in being cosily out of the outside cold, and not having to pay for the heating that keeps me warm. I find joy in watching the sky, gazing at the infinite variety in the shape of the clouds sailing overhead, or into the depths of a clear blue sky, or in a perfect rainbow against black storm clouds.

“I find joy in blossom trees, tender green leaves, or the magnificent canopies of old trees. There is joy in discovering the first spring bulbs in bloom, and in seeing the cheerful glory of Kyneton’s ‘Golden Mile’ of daffodils, and being so thankful I can see all these beautiful things that God has created for our enjoyment.

“I find joy in listening to bird calls, children’s voices, or a piece of beautiful music, especially when it is something I recall from my earliest days.

“Being surrounded by favourite possessions – all associated with fond memories, gives me joy. I feel joy when I am with one of my family, or an old friend. How fortunate that I have that person in my life!

“I feel intense joy each year as all the family gather for our family Christmas. I look at my handsome sons and lovely daughters and their partners, my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and am so grateful to have been spared another year to share our celebrations.

“There is gratitude and joy in thinking of their goodness, and the goodness of similar family groups. I see each member the centre of a circle of goodness which radiates ever-widening ripples of goodness into the world. I find joy believing that this goodness will overcome all that is contrary to God’s perfect plan.

“I find even greater joy and wonder when I think of all God has given me – especially, the gift of his Son. For me, joy equates to love.”

Our wise elders have much to teach us if we ask them.

PS Mum also asks me to include that she gets special joy from choux pastry in any form– particularly coffee eclairs! Hint, hint.

Margaret-Mary Flynn

Margaret-Mary Flynn is a writer and editor with a background in education, teaching English, literature, history and religious education. She has recently graduated with a Master of Arts (Spirituality) from the University of Divinity, specialising in spiritual direction, and early Christian and monastic spirituality. She lives in Bendigo with her husband, has three adult children and three grandchildren, and enjoys reading and writing, the domestic arts, yoga and gardening.

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