Beautiful hymns keep coming to mind as I spend gentler times with my elderly clients. What a privilege it is to sit a while and listen to the chatter of their memories as they recount the days of their youth, marriage, children, careers and holidays.
The first being “It is well with my soul” – penned by Horatio Spafford in 1873, following a number of traumatic events in his life. From the death of his four-year-old son, the loss of his business in the Great Chicago Fire (1871) and his financial ruin as a result of the fire and the economic downturn of 1873, one would be hard pressed to imagine what else the man could be subjected to… add the tragic loss of all four of his daughters whilst crossing the Atlantic Ocean when their ship collided with a sea vessel. His wife survived and sent the famous telegram: “Saved alone…”. It was in passing near where his daughters had died, en-route to meet his grieving wife, that he penned these famous lines.
I am not suggesting that one needs to experience such devastating tragedy in order to achieve a feeling of wellbeing in one’s soul, rather that in the face of such events, one can only but cling to one’s faith in the plan and purpose of the Almighty in order to soldier on.
My birthday, this past week, gave me pause for reflection too. It is indeed well with my soul since I am living one of my best lives! Not only have I had the opportunity to take on a “new life adventure” in a new country, hemisphere, culture and climate but I have been blessed with an abundance of the kindest people to come into my life, without losing any of the wonderful people from my “previous lives”. I firmly believe that it is in the relationships that we cultivate, rather than in the work we engage in, or the place that we live in, that truly enriches our lives.
Having a birthday, no matter the age, is a celebration of another 365 days worth of opportunity, consequence, anticipation and hopefully, progress. It is in the current stage of my life, dare I use the term “middle aged”, that I have come to appreciate the value of time. It is largely thanks to my wonderful elderly clients that this lesson has become even more real to me. Time is a gift that can never be taken back and the investment is seldom a bad one, especially when given without expectation.
On a more melancholy note, one often feels that it is a little too late to make the investment with an elderly soul, especially when their lives are drawing to a close, but I can assure you that, just like the person on death row, who at the last moment, comes to a conviction of their gratitude for their life gifted by their Saviour, it is never too late to reach out and make that investment in a moment to sit and simply be present with that elderly person.
So often us human beings merely feel the need to be noticed and by that I do not mean in a public way, rather in a personal way. To be noticed for being who we are as individuals and for the large or small contributions that we’ve made along the journey of our days. It is in the time taken to sit alongside and to hear of that journey, that fills the soul of the speaker and in turn, the listener too.
The old expression “time is money” is indeed true, especially when one is in the phase of one’s life where there are commitments to family and career. We have all been there and I do not believe that there is any harm in “chasing the dream”, whatever that may be but, if only we had the wisdom of hindsight to notice that in the chase, we often lose a little piece of our soul, along with a lot of peace.
Nowadays, I have come to realise that time has a different value, besides money, it has a currency of a much greater value than any earthly currency and the longer we take to sit a while, the wealthier we become.
Yes, living costs money and bills need to be paid so a certain level of ambition is a prerequisite for our human existence. As I grow older, I hope to find a better balance between the necessity of making money, for “needs”, and the desire to have more of the “wants”.
“Nearer, my God, to Thee” – is the other hymn that pops up of late. Sarah Flower Adams penned this hymn in the 19th century, retelling the story of Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28:11-12) and holds it’s infamy as the alleged last song played by the band on the ill-fated RMS Titanic, as well as being sung by the crew and passengers of the SS Valencia as it sank off the Canadian coast in 1906.
Not only was it one of my dear late Dad’s favourites but also because of my role as carer of the elderly in their own homes, that I feel the impact of these words. We shall all grow old and infirm and, God-willing, may we grow gentler and kinder with the challenges of ageing, instead of crankier and angrier as we adjust to the various aches and pains, the loss of independence and dignity as our feeble bodies fail us. I know only that we have the privilege of drawing “nearer, my God, to Thee” in this challenging phase of our earthly life – bring on another year and the privilege of another birthday – the best day of my whole year, every year!