Just outside our apartment, near the chapel, is the Memorial Board. Every day as I walk past the Board, I pause to remember those who have died, and wonder when my name will appear there! The distance between those who have passed and me has narrowed. I am slowly running out of time. It has been a time of loss~~several residents here have died. Former mentors Malcolm Boyd and Fred Craddock have died, as has a friend and beloved physician in North Carolina Dr. Jane Carswell. I used to play “obituary baseball,” but no longer. Many of those who have passed are younger than I, and I wonder why I am left. This is Holy Week, as we walk with Jesus to his death, and our death is on our mind. Realizing the immediacy of death helps us arrange our priorities, and makes some things trivial, and helps us cherish the present. It’s all we really have, It is said that when Plato was very near death, a friend asked him to summarize his life work. Plato came out of a coma to answer, “Practice dying.”
Strange, isn’t it, that we really don’t realize some things of life until we experience them. Most of my life I have worked with handicapped people, either in wheelchairs, walkers, or other restrictions. But, yesterday it hit me full force . I participated in a Hospice Memorial Service, but since I could not process down the aisle with a walker, I had to sit by myself in the choir. It gave me a new perspective. The words, “Stand, if you are able,” struck me, as I was not able to stand. So I said my piece sitting down! My neuropathy has progressed to the point that I am totally reliant on my walker. When I leave his office the last words of my neurologist are: “Don’t fall!” Yeah, right. As I reflected on being handicapped, I rewrote the words of Jesus to Peter about being old, “When you are young you went wherever you wanted; but when you are old you can only go where your wife drives you, or where your walker takes you.” Waiting for the service (and wondering if the audience expected me to sing a solo), I thought of the amazing courage of Franklin Roosevelt, how his legs failed him from polio. How he was restricted by those braces on his legs! He was a profile of courage. People have been kind, and gracious. If had sung a solo it would have been, “I walked today where Jesus walked,” but I go there in my mind. I live in the hope that some day in the next life. “I will mount up with wings as eagles, run and not be weary, and walk, not fall.:”
It was my friend and co-author, Jane Thibault. who first introduced me to the idea that aging is like a natural monastery. She claims, “Monasticism provides a Rule of Life, which requires the monk to take vows of poverty, chastity obedience and stability.” After nearly twelve years of living in this retirement community, I see a striking similarity between my life here and that of monks. We no longer live in our own homes, but in a community with people not of our own choosing. We are required to surrender all ownership of private property, and become member of a community, where we must submit to the control of the corporation. Although not living in dire poverty like monks, we had to get rid of most of our possessions to fit into a small space. We share a common life, eating, playing, worshiping, and praying together. As “real” monks, we subscribed to a radically different kind of productivity, not based on achievement or material success, but on service to to others. in the community, each finding their own sphere of service (mine has been working with Alzheimer’s residents and caregivers and a hospice volunteer). Of all the monastic vows, the most conspicuous is stability. All of us know that this is our final resting place, no next place to go , to look forwards to. Stability becomes a commitment to this place and to the members off this community. So, just call me. Brother Richard!!
I led a small group of members of a church on Death and Dying issues. One always learns something new. I learned about Green Burials and was reminded about writing your own obituary. Two of the group had done this, as have I. My friend and former chaplain here,Will Randolph ,introduced the concept to me some time ago, and told how he was writing his obituary at different stages of his life. Unfortunately Alfred Noble’s brother Ludwig died but they published the obituary of Alfred Nobel, calling him “The Dynamite King.” Alfred had a reprieve, and established the Nobel Peace Prize. He brooded over his “obituary” and rewrote his will, leaving money for the good of mankind Nobel was determined to be remembered in a more positive way, financing a Prize to benefit humanity. Of course, I have always advocated writing an ethical will, how you want to be remembered after you leave this world. IF you do write your obituary, it will make you realize how your life has mattered, and give you a sense of what your life could mean if you turn passions into actions. So, I have tweaked my obituary in light of my involvement with Clergy Against Alzheimer’s Network and given it to my wife,to be published atfer my departure to “the land that is fairer than day.”
What a memorable night. Our 18 year old granddaughter, Brannon, drove us to Pittsburgh to see the Davidson-Duquesne game. I have followed the Wildcats basketball team since 1947! I know I had to be the oldest alum present There is nothing so special as an old alumnus, still rooting for his Alma Mater. The “Cats did not disappoint me as they swished 30 three pointers and skunked the Dukes 107-78. Someone from the Alumni Office took my photo, just when the “Cats hit the 86th point, as it was my 86th birthday. What made the night even sweeter was that it gave Davidson undisputed possession of 1st place, a remarkable achievement, since all the sports pundits picked them for last! I loved the way my granddaughter got into the flow of the game and joined me in leading a “We’re No #1 cheer!” After the game I had a chance to congratulate Coach McKillop, and all he could say was, “35 assists, a record.”Memories are made of moments like this. On to March Madness.!
Hard to believe! 86 years ago my mother gave birth to her oldest son in the Good Samaritan Hospital of Lexington, Kentucky. I was named Richard Lyon for my great-great-grandfather, who was a Methodist minister in Camden, New Jersey. My grandfather, G Campbell Morgan, preached a sermon that night entitled. “The New Birth. I would like to share two short prayers from my brother John’s book, Prayerfulness, (1993) and my book. Fire in the Soul (2000). From John, “Grant us the pain of recognition, the agony of struggle, the comfort of forgiveness, the joy of new beginnings . . . from Richard, “We thank you for this time when we may pause from the busyness of life long enough to learn that our hearts still beat with compassion, our hands yearn to reach out in service, and our minds are as hungry as ever for your Word….” Or, in the words on a card one of my adult children sent me.., BIRTHDAYS ARE GOOD FOR YOU. STATISTICS SHOW THAT PEOPLE WHO HAVE THE MOST LIVE THE LONGEST.!!!!
As a hospice volunteer I have learned from the dying. At times they will share with me some of their regrets. As life comes to an end, especially as people reflect on their past , they cannot but help have some regrets, for no one is perfect. Bonnie Ware, a nurse who has worked in palliative care, writes that there are five regrets she hears most often. Among them are two which speak to me now. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends and I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. One of my friends, who read my book, At the Edge of Life, expressed his regret that the friendship we formed in college was neglected until he had a crisis. and years later we reconnected. Looking back at my long life I also also regret that my career resulted in some neglect of my two sons, but that has changed and we stay in close contact through calls and emails. And, when I attend a Memorial Service for a person from dementia care, I have regrets that I didn’t spend more time with them, especially since they rarely have visits. In a real sense these regrets become words of wisdom from the dying. They remind us who are still living that we still have time to shift our priorities. And so I will.