My friend Louise, a cradle Catholic, now worships with a small house church whose members come from diverse religious beginnings. One of the members of her community just had serious surgery, and Louise and the pastor — both 80 — are devoting four days, 24/7, to caring for him post-op. She calls it an “exercise in gratitude.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise that we choose friends who are on a recognizable spiritual path to our own. Louise is more religiously observant than I am, but we have a common experience as we age together: it’s about practicing gratitude. I say “practicing” rather than “feeling”, because gratitude for both of us has an active component. Gratitude is more than reciting prayers in Sunday worship, and more than feeling content and relieved that we can afford Seattle’s astronomical rents, and more than writing a note of thanks or making a donation. Gratitude is about putting yourself there, in places where your efforts can make a difference.
My trip to the College of St. Elizabeth to work with students next week is spurred by a similar motivation. When I was an overwhelmed and struggling college freshman in 1963, strong women on the faculty reached out to me, invested in me, helped me feel competent and smart: Sister Bernadette Therese, Sister Alice Lubin, Sister Anne Ford, Sister Francis Augustine, Sister Mary Catharine, Sister Therese Aquinas. Now I’m returning to work with freshmen who come from some of New Jersey’s most fractured inner city environments: Newark, Paterson, Camden, Jersey City. They are, their professors tell me, smart and hard working and eager to grow. They will like meeting an author, someone who is alum of the same institution they are attending.
I’m putting myself there, where I can make a difference.
While Louise is caring for her fellow church member I’m sending her texts of encouragement, and promising a perfectly chilled martini upon her return home. I’m proud to be her friend; she brings out more of what’s good in me. And it’s easier to have a sister traveler along this path of aging, so we can help each other stay focused on what’s important.