Wrin­kles are im­printed with the wis­dom el­ders have to share

Austin American-Statesman - - FAITH & BELIEFS - THE rEv. jAn­IcE SpEncE | your WordS The Rev. Jan­ice Spence is a com­mu­nity chap­lain for Dis­ci­ples Benev­o­lent Ser­vices. She serves as a chap­lain for Re­tire­ment Nurs­ing Cen­ter and Austin Re­cov­ery. She lives in Austin with her hus­band, John, their son, Noah,

As I sit with Marie, who is dy­ing in her nurs­ing home bed, I re­flect on the im­mense re­spect and love that I have for the el­derly. I look at the two trea­sured pic­tures of Je­sus, the small dresser with pos­si­bly all her be­long­ings in it, the lo­tions and other com­fort items scat­tered on the ta­bles and trays.

When I was a child, I knew that I loved el­derly peo­ple, who for me were my grand­mother and grand­fa­ther. When I was around peo­ple who were past mid­dle age, they held some strange, mys­te­ri­ous hope that I could not al­ways un­der­stand. The wrin­kles on their faces — the traces of lives lived — did not de­pict ug­li­ness or some­thing to avoid. They seemed to say to me that these peo­ple had con­quered so much more than I had as a child and let me know how im­pa­tient I was, hav­ing to wait for that wis­dom.

My grand­fa­ther was a rancher. He might have been 5 feet 4 inches tall in his boots, but he was a gi­ant in my eyes. He was the kind­est, most pa­tient and tol­er­ant man I have ever known. He taught me to ride a horse. He would hold my hand gen­tly yet firmly as we walked into the pas­ture. He would tell me not to be scared of the cows, which to me ap­peared like huge beasts that would at­tack at any moment. The one time I was ex­per­i­ment­ing with cig­a­rettes, he did not yell or even scold but told me not to get caught. Well, the last bit of ad­vice was prob­a­bly not the best for an adult to tell a child, but he was a bea­con of light in the anx­i­ety of my child­hood.

As a chap­lain, I love to take my son to the nurs­ing home. He looks with cu­ri­ous amaze­ment as he sees peo­ple in wheel­chairs with white hair and yet with a light in their eyes. We played bingo last week for the first time at the nurs­ing cen­ter, and when he yelled “bingo” — as only an al­most-5-year-old can yell when se­cur­ing his first ac­com­plish­ment at any­thing — for that moment, the old and the young were all in this life to­gether, en­joy­ing the moment and smil­ing.

Ev­ery hand that I hold rep­re­sents the life­long re­spect I have for the el­derly. I ob­serve the rich­ness in their world, sim­i­lar to how a for­tune-teller might read palms to tell the fu­ture, yet their hands tell me a bit about their past. Maybe God cre­ated us to age this way as a re­minder that our lives are im­printed on our souls and wis­dom on our hands. As the Book of Proverbs states, “The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splen­dor of the old.”

It is tempt­ing to fill the space with words as I sit here with Marie, her eyes open, her voice silent. I gen­tly ca­ress her hand, ad­just­ing her oxy­gen tube so it is com­fort­able in her nose, and stroke her gray hair. I ask God to use me as he sees fit in her last mo­ments. I re­spect and ac­cept her de­sire to be quiet. And I pray to God to guide my heart to be kind, lov­ing and re­spect­ful in her re­main­ing days as her won­der­ful body takes that last beau­ti­ful breath in this life and ex­hales gen­tly into the next.

The Rev. Jan­ice Spence

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