A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Don’t Leave

Anne Kerrigan
Artwork by Felicity Ann Nettles

For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

It was May 2016, and my husband and I were planning to be in Baltimore to celebrate the graduation of our granddaughter from Loyola College. We were joining our son, his wife, the graduate and her brother. It is such a gift to be able to celebrate happy occasions, but we were a bit concerned as to how strenuous the weekend might be. Our energy level is not what it used to be, and we were hoping that we wouldn’t peter out before the end of the weekend. “We will be fine!” became our mantra in the weeks before the graduation. My husband is a serious cardiac patient, and I worried about his stamina. I was struggling with a recent neuropathy diagnosis and my knees were in the end stages of the aging process, so I wondered about my own ability to keep up with the festivities. But, we repeated our mantra time and time again until we really believed we would be fine. The good news was that our son was the chauffeur, and off we went. We were full of excited anticipation and grateful to be a part of the joyous event. 

There were dinner celebrations and then the gathering of friends and classmates. We were the proud grandparents and it was a thrill. Unfortunately, our daughter-in-law’s parents were unable to attend due to illness, so we had to have a good time for them also. Even though we were celebrating way, way past our usual bedtime, we managed to stay awake and alert, enjoying it all. 

The graduation itself was lovely, but a bit long. There were one thousand graduates and every name was read out loud. At one point my husband leaned over and said to me, “If we were in a hospital, at least we would be turned every two hours!” You can imagine how difficult it was to even stand once the ceremony was over! This was when the ‘fun” began, and the mantra was challenged. The six of us had to walk from the graduation site to the restaurant. Even though it was not a long distance, it was decided that the gals should go by cab. The cab arrived. It was a small four door sedan. My granddaughter and my daughter-in-law, both very agile, climbed in. I followed, or at least I tried to follow. One leg managed to get into the cab, but the other leg was a challenge. My husband helped me navigate the door-sill. As we struggled to get that resistant leg into the back of that tiny car, the cab driver was graciously smiling. He apparently spoke very limited English, and I was suddenly terrified that he would drive off with my leg hanging out of the car and flapping in the wind! “Don’t leave until I’m in the car,” I pleaded. He smiled again. At last the leg folded into the car, and off we went. The whole scenario reminded me of college kids cramming themselves into a phone booth. 

Ten minutes later, we arrived at the restaurant. The driver stops the car and turns around, still smiling. I’m not sure whether or not he will now understand the need to wait until I get out of the cab. I can only hope. 

The other two gals hop out, and I start the leg routine all over again. I get one leg out and as I struggle with the other one, I remind the cab driver again to “not leave until I’m out!” He smiles again, and I am hoping it is a silent acknowledgement that I will need some time to exit the cab. In the midst of our now almost hysterical laughter, the other two gals are also reminding him to wait until the leg is out of the cab. I wonder what he is thinking, as three women are shouting at him all at once. 

At this point, I am almost prone on the backseat of the cab trying to lift my rather numb, lame leg over the ledge of the cab. I again plead, “Don’t leave until I’m out!” All I can imagine is the cab pulling away, leaving me with a broken leg!  At last. The leg is out. The cab driver smiles again, and I am sure he is happy when we finally close the cab door. We gave him a very generous tip, particularly since my lower extremities were still intact. We all had a few laughs about the so-called joys of the golden years. “Thank you, God, for the gift of canes,” I muttered to myself.

As I reflected on this incident, I began to really internalise that the challenges of the golden years exist specifically because we are getting older. The guarantees on all the body parts are coming close to the expiration date, and they often cry out for attention! It can sometimes be tedious and exhausting, draining what little energy we have left. But, further examination of the situation made me understand that this gift of years enabled us to travel to Baltimore to attend the graduation of a beloved granddaughter. It also enabled us to spend a lovely weekend with our son and his family. My heart was heavy with gratitude, and I felt incredibly fortunate. 

In her book, The Gift of Years, Sister Joan Chittister explains that one of the obstacles to the golden years is that there is too much focus on what is being lost, and thus we miss much of what we are gaining. It sometimes takes acts of defiance, combined with heightened awareness, to stare down the infirmities of advancing years in order to “smell the roses.” 

There are many people who have not been blessed with the gift of years. They missed graduations, weddings, and other special events because, for some reason, life was cut short for them. Life, in many ways, is total mystery! Yet, I have been blessed with days, weeks, months, and years, filled with physical challenges but also filled with much happiness. 

Thank you, God, for both the joys and the challenges. In the future, I hope to make every ache and pain a reminder of my many blessings.   

As for old age, embrace it and love it,
it abounds with pleasure if you know how to use it. The gradually declining years are among the sweetest in life.

(Lucius Seneca, 6 BC-65 AD)

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