BigSis decided I was a ‘natural’ to write about today’s chapter of the Rule (RB 37), being the oldest in community — although I do act young at times, she says, and I like to think there’s something of the dashing youngster about me still.
Being old is no fun. Everything creaks a bit. The eyes are dimmer, the hearing not so sharp, and visits to the Vettery increase in number and discomfort. So, I was pleased to find Benedict making four points about how we oldies and the very young should be treated. He says that, although everyone should feel compassionate towards us,
- the authority of the Rule must still make provision for us;
- our lack of strength should always be taken into account;
- we should not be expected to observe the strictness of the Rule regarding food but should be allowed to eat earlier than the others;
- we should be treated with sympathetic consideration.
In other words, we need the protection of the law, not just occasional warm, fuzzy feelings towards us, which can be switched on or off when you please. That means sticking at the business of looking after us, even when we become a tad uncertain about lifting our legs at the right time and all that kind of thing. I admit, we can become awkward as we grow older, and our ability to burp after meals is no longer regarded as the triumph it was when we were young, but so what? It shows there’s life in the old dog (human) yet!
I’ve heard dreadful rumours that old dogs are sometimes ‘put to sleep’ and there’s a feeling among some that there should be a law about that for humans, too. I don’t think St Benedict would have approved, do you? I certainly don’t! Let us conk out when we have to; but equally, don’t take any extraordinary means to keep us alive.
Our weakness should be recognized for what it is: lack of strength, not some diminution of our humanity (Them) or doggyness (me). It’s important we should be properly nourished, as Benedict says, which means serving meals that are appetizing and suited to our digestion — and we shouldn’t have to wait for them too long, either. (Quietnun, please note.) Finally, there is that ‘sympathetic consideration’: treating us kindly, but as one of yourselves, not something indeterminate called ‘an old person’, a ‘young person’, or ‘a decrepit old dog’ (snarl), as the case may be.
It’s really all about treating us as you would like to be treated yourself now, not as you imagine you would like to be treated in the future. The thing is, old age isn’t as we imagine it will be. We don’t change inside. It’s our outsides that crumble and wrinkle. So, please, be kind to us oldies. We may be slow and doddery, but we have our dignity; and one day, you yourself may be one of us and understand what it was all about.