Henri advises us that compassion can grow in a poor heart, “because in a poor heart the pains of growing old can be recognized and shared. Compassion is the second most important characteristic of caring, since it allows us to overcome the fear of old strangers and invite them as guests into the center of our own intimacy.” He believes that the distinctions between young and old are “artificial” and that, “those who care and those who are cared for no longer have to relate to each other as the strong to the weak, but both can grow in their capacity to be human.” I particularly love his definition of compassion. “Compassion makes us see beauty in the midst of misery, hope in the center of pain. It makes us discover flowers between barbed wire and a soft spot on a frozen field. Compassion makes us notice the balding head and the decaying teeth, feel the weakening hand grip and the wrinkling skin, and sense the fading memories and slipping thoughts, not as a proof of the absurdity of life, but as a gentle reminder that ‘unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain, but if it dies it yields a right harvest.'” (John 12:24). I am beginning to realize the need to not only die in the flesh but to die intellectually and emotionally in able to embrace our inevitable human death. In order to do this we must connect to those among us who are closer to this inevitability or, we can continue to pretend that this event will not be part of our experience or can be delayed. I challenge you to follow the advice of Henri. Join and embrace the growth of aging. Is there anyone who wants to share their experience in working with the elderly. Please let us know if what Nouwen says is true.
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