Columbans Keep Going!
“How old are you?” is a question that I’m very often asked in Pakistan, and when I tell my age, 75, the response is something like, “You look very fresh,” or “You’re still young.” But then, when I travel by bus or train, people will often say, “Let the old man sit down,” or “Can I help you, Baba (grandfather)!” Also, when young people ask me my age and I tell them to guess, they often say, “80,” or even “85!”
Regardless of how old I am, I have found that the same demands are often made of me as if I were still in my 50s or 60s. Even though I would like to respond positively to such requests, I have come to realize that I have to recognize my limits. However, and that it is up to me to do so. However, when I consider many older people whom I’ve come to know here in Karachi, I see that they do not have the same freedom to choose as I have. They are expected, or expect themselves, to keep on working until weakness or illness makes it impossible. I have made friends with a few elderly men in the bazaars and markets who tend their fruit and vegetable carts all day every day and often late into the evening, intent on making a living for their families. I see aged women begging all day on the street in order to survive.
I have found that the resilient attitude of these elderly people has kept me encouraged to resist the temptation to give up, or to retire and go back home to live in the comforts of my own country and culture. It has made me see that I still have energies that can be used in the service of others here in Pakistan, especially in the field of spiritual direction and guidance of seminarians, priests and religious. I can still see myself with a role as a promoter and encourager of building up and strengthening the local Church. Also, the members of our Columban group have told me that my presence is valuable for them. And, speaking for myself, I am happy to be in Pakistan, where I have found that when I am “stretched” to do more, I end up having more energy than if I had done less.
In summary then, when I reflect on aging in Pakistan and think of retiring, I can see that, as a Columban missionary priest, there is only one satisfactory response, and that is to follow the example of the people I see around me, and to keep going in the same work and mission, until, for whatever reason, I can do no more.
Columban Fr. Joseph Joyce lives and works in Pakistan.