During August, I’ll focus on how Ignatian principles of spiritual growth are quite fitting for those of us in the second half of life. “Find Your Inner Iggy” is the title of a promotion Loyola Press had going on Facebook recently, and I really like the sound of that phrase—rather whimsical.
Embody Gratitude and Joy
Nobody likes cranky old people. Each of us has experienced such a person, maybe several, in our family or community or workplace. This is the person who is never pleased or happy. She is quick to find something to criticize, no matter the person or situation. If something goes well, she’ll remind everyone that the happiness won’t last for long, or that something’s sure to go wrong, to counteract what’s gone right.
Visit a nursing home, and you’ll find definite categories of people. Some of them are pleasant and patient and positive, and you enjoy talking with them, learning about their lives and sharing your stories with them. Others are poison-filled, and it’s little wonder they never have visitors. Of course, some very fine people in nursing homes don’t have visitors for reasons beyond their control. But some people are alone because they have chased off everyone who might have kept them company. (Please know that I’m not talking about people who suffer Alzheimer’s or other mental illness that changes their personality and makes them difficult.)
The fact is, as we become older, we become more of who we truly are. My future—and yours—is this: a few years from now we’ll live in a room or two, cut off from the life we once knew because we are too feeble, physically or mentally, to live on our own anymore. A few of us will have the financial means to end up in a nicer room, and some of us will be fortunate enough to be able to live with children or grandchildren.
But you and I are creating our future right now—by choosing whether to be grateful or resentful. By choosing whether to be joyful or despairing. These are choices we make every day, and they are spiritual habits we are building, hour by hour. We are, right now, becoming that older person, as we make daily decisions about how to be in this world.
St. Iggy’s Spiritual Exercises emphasize gratitude as the virtue by which we can receive God’s love that’s all around us in the world—in creation, in society, in the people with whom we live and work, and even in our own abilities and personality. In the opening Principle and Foundation, and again in the Contemplation to Attain Love, at the end of the Exercises, we open ourselves to God’s transforming love by recognizing all that is good and beautiful and wonderful and full of grace. We recognize it daily, and we respond to it with joy and gratitude.
I’ve been so blessed to know elderly people who, even in the nursing home in various states of debilitation, would smile and welcome me, would be generous and humorous, would make it clear that life was good. Unless I die sooner rather than later, I will indeed become an old woman, somewhere, and I want to be that woman—the one the staff comes to visit because she always makes them feel better, the old woman who jokes about her body falling apart and her memory playing tricks on her, the old woman who, when she prays, makes you so happy you just cry and believe.