by Father Mark Goldasich
“The greatest bit of advice I ever received,” said comedian Ricky Gervais, was: ‘Don’t worry, no one else knows what they’re doing either.’”
Well, Pope Francis would disagree. As proof, he’d direct the comedian to his new book, “Sharing the Wisdom of Time.”
An editors’ note at the beginning of the book explains: “Pope Francis had previously responded to children’s questions in person and in the book ‘Dear Francis.’ In a new project, his focus turned to the grandparents, mothers, fathers, widows, widowers and single individuals who have known decades of joy and sorrow, loss and change. Pope Francis views elders as reservoirs of wisdom and historical memory and believes their insights will offer future generations much-needed understanding and direction.”
Apparently, there are people, from over 30 countries, who really do know what they’re doing, and their stories are gathered in this stunning 176-page book, filled with pictures of the elders — as well as their age, country and occupation.
These wise folks impart advice on five areas: work, struggle, love, death and hope. Pope Francis introduces each section and often responds to the interviewee.
In the Work section, readers can meet 95-year-old Leah Chase, an American chef and the “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” who deals with criticism like this: “You don’t buckle, because that’s what life’s all about, darlin’. . . . If you’re criticized, look at it. Then correct it, if you can and move on. . . . You don’t stop when people criticize you. You keep going, and you do better every time.”
One story in the Struggle section comes from Ann Garnett, 72, from the United Kingdom who, in wrestling with the end of her 43-year marriage, was feeling a complex mix of feelings, chiefly resentment.
An old Jesuit offered this advice: “Nurse your resentment. Nurse it like a candle flame, and when you are ready, you blow it out.”
It took three years, but eventually she had a conversation with her ex and “something shifted. . . . A few days later, I was startled to realize that I had blown out the flame of my resentment without even noticing I was doing it.”
One of the more unusual stories in the Love section is that of Father Angel Garcia Rodriguez, an 80-year-old Spanish priest who has a 13-year-old son!
OK, the son is adopted, but still.
He says: “I think being a parent is the most dangerous and, at the same time, the most wonderful thing. The poorer and the most powerful in this world, the youngest and the oldest, we all need to be loved. . . . Love makes you suffer, but it always gives you a result more valuable than the suffering. . . .
“Sometimes, you have to suffer to be able to experience joy. You have to value love with all its pain and suffering. Because love is all that matters.”
Margaret McKinnon, an 84-year-old great-grandmother from Australia, is one featured in the section on Death. She reflects on her husband’s death in his mid-50s, right before the wedding of one of their children: “I think we all have times of feeling I can’t cope with this. But you do.
“Otherwise, you are just a pain in the neck for everybody else. Enjoy your life, value the time you had with your family and friends, and just get on with it.”
It’s so refreshing that the last section of the book is entitled Hope. One of the more touching stories comes from Basil Brave Heart, an 84-year-old spiritual elder of the Lakota people who shares an even older wisdom: “There’s a lot of medicine that my grandmother taught me. We use the word ‘medicine’ to mean ‘a way to live,’ and one way is forgiveness.”
That forgiveness was expansive, stretching even to the soldiers who once massacred 300 Lakota at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.
In this short column, I can’t do justice to this incredible volume, published by Loyola Press. It will make you cry, ponder, be grateful and then ponder some more.
The $29.95 cost of the book is nothing compared to the priceless wisdom it imparts.
I’ll close with the words of Kay Thuerk, an 85-year-old cancer survivor from the States, who said: “Well, I do think [God] is with me. I think he’s got his arm around me. And I think he will always be there. . . .
“He better be, or he’s in trouble!”
Lord, you’ve been warned.