Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Becoming Old Myself

For thirty years, I have helped old people write their memoirs. Since my thirties, this has been my number-one bread-and-butter occupation.

One insight of my work as a private memoir ghost-writer is that old, or retired, people, have less ego, less push-forward, less need to prove themselves right or prove themselves at all. In general, they have worked with me on their life stories not because they consider themselves important but because they consider their children and grandchildren important, and they want to pass along a few things to these next generations.

Today, I find myself becoming that old guy. Somewhere in my sixties, I have already taken one stab at my own memoir and I now find myself working with a much younger population, who view me as, well, old, or at least older. They are not blind or deluded about this. I am older. (The photo shows me with John, a core member at L’Arche Boston North, with whom I was privileged to travel cross-country recently. With only a few months’ difference, John and I are the same age!)

If you want to realize you’re old, go to work in a L’Arche community where the next youngest in-the-trenches assistant is fifteen years your junior. And after that early-fifty-something there is a steep drop-off to the next age plateau, in the thirties. I was stunned recently to learn that one of my fellow L’Arche assistants—whom I admire—was nineteen. For heaven’s sake!

I think I spent my first year-plus at L’Arche determined that none of these young people was going to outwork me! I beat myself up, working my fanny and feet off. At my most idiotic, I even hungered after a position of leadership, power—I was ambitious! Still!

I thank a retreat at the St. Joseph Retreat House in Milton and a book to which the retreat director steered me for waking me up to my own insanity. The book is by a priest, Richard Rohr. It is titled Falling Upward. Its main theme is that life is lived in two halves, and only the first half is about leadership, power, and ambition.

I referred to this book in my recent post about my father.

I was reminded of all this last night when I had a short but happy-for-me conversation with a fellow assistant. Without betraying the gender, age, or identity of this person, I will say only that the assistant is younger than either of my children.

I had seen throughout the day that the assistant was in some sort of funk. The assistant behaved to me in ways that I might have taken personally, negatively, except I saw the funk and knew that it had nothing to do with me. So near the end of the evening I asked the assistant if s/he was OK.

A simple question that could have been deflected—but I saw my own attitude toward the assistant (sincere liking and concern) and I saw the assistant’s reaction (taking my question seriously). What followed was a brief but, at least for me, satisfying exchange in which the assistant spoke of what was going on, and I made a few comments that I thought were somewhere between doddering and pastoral.

I think the assistant got, and appreciated, “where I was coming from.”

Every day I work on at L’Arche, I see that I need to own my age and whatever fragments of wisdom have become glued to me, like cookie crumbs littering my shirt.

I’m okay with being old.

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you have trouble posting comments, please log in as Anonymous and sign your comment manually.