and Youthful Illusions
… and, Oh 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 rational.
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 youthful illusions.”
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
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 —
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 us do.
Your 10th high school reunion will leave you unsettled. Your 20th
will appall you. How did they all lose their beauty so quickly …
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.
Geoffrey K. Mondello
Boston Catholic Journal
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Totally Faithful to the Sacred
Deposit of Faith entrusted to the Holy See in
opera tua ... quia modicum habes virtutem, et servasti
verbum Meum, nec non negasti Nomen Meum”
know your works ... that you have but little power,
and yet you have kept My word, and have not denied My
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