Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Growing Old Gracefully

In a village very close to the demilitarized line between North and South Korea, there is the artist village of Heyri, where artists of all kinds live. A professor emeritus writes  in a parish bulletin about the house that was built with rusted sheets of steel. It left a deep impression on her during a visit to the village.  First of all, seeing a building built with that kind of material was novel. Asking about the building she was told that the  rust on the plates passed through a natural chemical reaction as it weathered during foul weather, eventually becoming a beautiful  chocolate color. The writer mentions that she envies the way those steel plates, in their own process of retirement, developed so beautifully.

What additives, she asks herself, does she need to face the future without fear?  She lists financial security, health,  family,  neighbors, among others that came to mind.  Looking over her standard, how difficult and tragic it must be for an older person to live well, she points out, when he is poor, not healthy, and living alone with no one to look after him.

Before retiring from her teaching position at the college, one day on her way home from school to the  subway, she saw a grandmother who was precisely in that kind of situation. She sat behind a box on which were placed taffy, pop corn and rice cookies. She looked to be in her eighties, stooped over, but was actually, she later learned, 73 years old. Outside of days when there was snow on the ground, she would be at her box selling her goods.

On passing her spot on the sidewalk, she would always stop to buy some of her foodstuffs, and on  occasions she would bring her something to eat but she  would always get  some thing  in return. Once she became friendly with the woman she asked about her family and was told she had a daughter, who lived  quite a distance away and they were no long communicating. Since she has nothing to give her daughter it was natural that the relationship had  developed the way it had, she said, dispassionately.

There were a number of days that she did not appear. The police had confiscated all that she had, she said. The writer felt so bad that she gave her all the money she had with her, and again she gave her some Korean dates in return.

Now that she is a retired professor, she reflects on the life of the grandmother,
who despite the difficult life she has lived does not dwell upon her misery, but lives every day to the best of her ability. She wonders whether having many possessions was the reason she  became friendly with the grandmother.

Her worries about amassing  a lot of material goods, which became her must-have additives in life, were probably, she said, in God's providence the reason she met the grandmother. The additives that she needs now, she believes, are feelings of gratitude  and the need to entrust everything to God. This additive, from among the many others, she says, is the one she is most concerned about continuing to have as she moves forward into her retirement years.

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