The previous two articles in this series highlighted my morning woes, my inability to rise and shine as quickly as I should, and my difficulty in adorning my apparel. There is a reason for this: I am simply getting older. But in reality, from the moment we are born, we are getting older, so I think it would help to delineate the starting points in each stage of our life journey. I will categorize them this way: childhood, adolescence, young adult, adult, middle age, then old age.
Not long ago, it was easier placing individuals in these respective categories, but unfortunately nowadays childhood is carried right into adulthood with the intervening years becoming one long kindergarten. Old age is different: you are either old; really old; really, really old; or ancient. I am sixty-five so I place myself in the old category. There are various and sundry indications of being old. No doubt, some of my readers can surely identify them. These indicators are usually seen on the body and include, but are not limited to: enlargement of the ears (or is it head shrinkage?), the nose doing bizarre imitations of the Blob, and the eyes squinting into an Oriental shape.
There are many others. My wife stated one day, “Russ, your lips are disappearing.” Thankfully, I refrained from the obvious husbandly retort — the one regarding her own, perhaps better remaining sealed: a rare time when my brain was quicker than my mouth with its shrinking lips. Most devastating for some is the hair disappearing from the top of the head. This last aging anomaly is usually balanced by the hair now growing more profusely from elsewhere on the head (e.g., nose and ears). It seems that the head hair cells are simply tiring out and find going sideways much easier than going up: less gravity against which to work. And let’s not forget the skin — it suddenly loosens from the bones, sags, then creates double chins, flabby stomachs with hip handles, arm muscles that droop becoming skin aprons, and knees that suddenly appear as worn-out leather baseball gloves. It seems that the skin wants to co-operate too willingly with gravity and get a head start on its journey downward to the grave.
Most annoying are those alien looking appendages that seem to appear overnight: “skin tags” they call them. I have been tempted to cut them off, but my wife claims that these skin tags are produced by the body to isolate excess toxins and to snip them would do more harm than good. What really is happening, I believe, is that the body is alarmed that the skin is drooping, so it sends out little knots to stop the downward progress. Believe what you will; either way, it’s self defense.
Lastly, there’s shrinkage. In my case, it happened suddenly: I was at a family get-together and noticed that I was looking up at everybody, even some of my grandchildren. Now I’m normal height for a human, not tall, but the fact that this once robust grape was turning into a shriveled raisin did set me back a bit.
There are benefits, of course, in this aging process. You don’t have to check the weather report because the body becomes a walking meteorological forecasting station. Hail, sleet, snow and rain are all predicted days in advance by that wounded knee, crushed toe, or damaged shoulder, and are usually accompanied by another element — fire in these very same aching limbs.
I don’t mind getting old; it took me a long time getting here, but if you could go back in time to the days of my youth, a bet with Vegas that I wouldn’t make it past nineteen would have reaped great rewards. I thank the Lord that he has granted me this extra time to atone for my youthful insolence.
I am of French Canadian ancestry, a race that is known, at least in past years, for its heartiness and longevity. Most of my relatives were immigrants to this country and for many years spoke only French, and after that a broken English, or what I call a “sideways” English peculiar to these people. It was not uncommon to hear utterances (I’ll call them “frogisms”), such as “throw me down the stairs, my shirt”, or “next time you cut through my yard, you go around”, or “I know who you are, and I know your father just as easy.” Two people standing alongside each other were said to be “side by each.” My all time favorite, which I use regularly, came poignantly from my uncle who suffered terribly from psoriasis: when asked if he acquired this malady recently or had it in his youth, he responded, “No, I didn’t have it in my youth, and I long for the way I use to was.”
“Use to was” — now I have always taken this to mean not just the past, but the imagined present. What do I mean by this? Well, the mind is willing, but the body is weak. Let me give an example. I have six sons, the youngest being eighteen, and all of them at one point have suggested that it was time to knock the rooster off his perch. We would strut over to the kitchen table, seat ourselves, then proceed in the manly art of arm wrestling, looked on upon by the other five future roosters. Of course, in my prime, I had no difficulty with the first pretender. As he huffed and puffed to take me down, I nonchalantly pretended to read a book with my other hand. It became more difficult as time wore on, for I became older while my successive challengers were each young. I made it through the first five wannabe roosters, but I dreaded that day of wrath when the last boy would get the gumption to challenge my perch. This boy had been on a regimen of vitamins, daily workouts at the gym, and most nights I could hear him grunting upstairs in his bedroom while lifting weights. He would pace around the house flexing his muscles and puffing his chest. While I pretended not to notice, I knew he was calculating the best time to throw down the gauntlet. It was during one of these pacing sessions that I decided to initiate the challenge, which, to my chagrin, he eagerly accepted. I was sixty-five at the time and had no chance, but the imagined youth of my mind overruled the “use to was” of reality. The mind convinces itself that the body is still young, while the body tries to tell the mind that it, the higher faculty, is deranged.
Needless to day, the offspring put me down. Thus were fulfilled Our Lord’s words, “the last shall be first” (Matt. 19:30), when my youngest son became the first one to beat the old man at arm wrestling.
So I sit here writing, not getting old, but already old, fascinated with my mutating body, resolving to become the Catholic I should be, and regretting the things I did when I “use to was.’
And with that, I shall proceed to the third decade of my Saint Joseph Rosary which I call “Joseph contemplates the Divine Maternity.” I place myself outside the Temple, still marveling at the miraculous events of the espousals of Joseph and Mary. The holy pair leave the Temple and are greeted by family and friends, amid songs and other innocent merriment celebrating the espousals which have just occurred. They take the road leading to the house bequeathed to Mary by Joachim and Anne, situated in Jerusalem, close by the Probatic Pool. As they proceed, their relatives employ the Jewish custom of laying down palms before their feet, and I notice that Mary seems uneasy over the pomp and honor being accorded her. She has spent the last eleven years secluded in the Temple, and this humble dove, who has forsaken the glitter of the world for the gold of heaven, shivers ever so slightly to be seen in the public eye. Joseph leans closer to her, whispers calm assurances, then supports her arm as they travel along. I interrupt the procession and ask Joseph, “Do you think that thirty-three years from now, when her Son trods these same palm branches before He endures the wine press of Cavalry, that she will remember this day, and how you supported her?” Now I am prone to asking Joseph dumb questions whose answers I already know, but it is a game we play, and he answers, “Silly question Russ. Of course she will remember, but what I would give to be there in body, and not just in spirit.”
They stay in Jerusalem for several months, then, divinely inspired, they remove to another house bequeathed to Mary along with several other properties, in Nazareth. This house is far away from the bustle of Jerusalem, with its contentious Pharisees and Sadducees, who are vying for power and disrupting the peace of the Temple. I turn to Joseph jokingly and say, “Two houses, Joseph, and several properties! Did you know you were marrying into money?” In reply, I get a penetrating gaze that sears into my soul, reminding me that before leaving Jerusalem they had sold all their property, giving one-third to the Temple, one-third to the poor, and retaining one-third for the administration of their household. “Only kidding Joseph, you know that, just sharing my thoughts,” I weakly reply. “I know that Russ, but here is your lesson for today: most thoughts are just passing thoughts, best left unsaid”, and with that I find myself in the holy house of Nazareth.
It is a small, simple house, built against a large rock, which has been excavated to form another room. On one side there is a kitchen garden that Mary cultivates expertly, and on the other is Joseph’s workshop, where I always proceed, for I am most comfortable there, alone with Joseph in his daily routine. The Annunciation and Visitation have taken place; peace resides in the mind of Joseph now that his trial concerning this virginal birth has been explained by the Angel Gabriel in a dream; and the routine of daily living descends upon their poor household, whose poverty is embraced by both virginal spouses as most pleasing to God. In my previous meditations, the bachelor Joseph and I would go fishing on a whim; not so now, for I cannot imagine him leaving his immediate duties of protecting the Mother and Child. And I feel, unless they were with him, he would not go; so I stay in his workshop watching him craft furniture, and to my admiration, smaller tools, exact replicas of what he uses, and as he finishes an instrument, he places it into a special tool box he has made: it is his dowry for the future Christ Child when he comes of age.
It is most peculiar that I am very uneasy in the house proper. There are times when Mary comes to the door of the workshop and beckons Joseph to lunch. I always slink away to some corner, for she is carrying Our Lord and I am afraid to appear, worthless sinner that I am. Joseph is amused by this, and says, “Why do you hide, as if they didn’t know you are there? Come, join us for lunch.” I defer and say to Joseph, “I can’t; that would be a foretaste of heaven, one I’m not worthy to enjoy, and besides, in my meditations, I cannot construct a scenario in which I would be comfortable in those Divine presences. Do you remember the reason I am here in the first place? It was forty years ago and your lovely wife granted me the great miracle that I had asked for. You remember, in desperation I had offered that terrible promise in exchange for her to immediately stop my abuse of alcohol. Encouraged by that great favor, I went to my parish church, Saint Joan of Arc, knelt in front of her statue, and begged another favor in my behalf. It was not granted at the time, but I returned frequently to beg her intercession. The last time I went to plead I was alone in the Church and I distinctly heard a voice, whether interiorly or exteriorly I can’t say: ‘go to the opposite side of the Church, and there pray.’ Startled, I did, and discovered your statue standing tall in front of me. She was sending me to you, and ever since, I have read and researched all I could about your life, your virtues and admirable qualities, and have failed miserably to emulate them. At first, I felt privileged that she had sent me to you, but in later years it occurred to me that I had been banished from her court for not responding to the many graces she had offered in response to my pleadings. Be that as it may, here I stand in your presence, knowing that you will accept me as I hope to be, shielding me from the just wrath I have deserved.”
To all that outpouring of my heart, Saint Joseph responds, “You are a very silly man if you think the Queen of heaven, our Mediatrix, would loathe your presence! Besides, what would she think of me if the company I keep is so loathsome to her? I see you have not heeded the advice I gave that most thoughts are passing thoughts unworthy of being uttered. You are a father, are you not? And did not your wife send your children to you when they became unruly? That is what our heavenly mother has done, and I accept you, skin tags and all, in spite of your sinfulness. You have heeded the advice of Pharaoh, “Go to Joseph,” and have advised others to do the same; for that, I tolerate your presence.”
My meditation is done, and I reflect on my earlier years when Joseph was not essential to my spiritual growth, as he is now — and am very happy not to be the way I “use to was.”
To be continued…