Sweet and sour
In the last year I received two framed prayers from deans at the University of the Philippines Diliman. I don’t know if it’s because I look like I need prayers, or seem “prayer-less” in keeping with the stereotyped reputation of UP, or both, but I do like both pieces and thought I’d share them with readers.
I’ll just jog your memory regarding the first, about which I’ve already written: John O’Donohue’s “For One Who Holds Power.” O’Donohue was a philosopher and poet whose anthology of prayers, “To Bless the Space Between Us,” has inspired many. Most of the prayers are for those in distress and in challenging circumstances, but the one about holding power turns the tables around in addressing those in power. The prayer is still copyrighted but it’s found all over the Internet.
Let’s move on to “A Prayer for Aging Gracefully.” My initial reaction was: “Wait a minute, who said I’m aging? After a quick reality check—you’d be surprised how we senior citizens often forget we’re senior, until we look in the mirror—I became uneasy, wondering if I was given the gift because I was aging ungracefully or, worse, disgracefully.
The prayer had “Anonymous, 17th century saint” at the end, which intrigued, or rather challenged, me. With age, I’ve learned that even with quotations and reflective pieces that tug at your heartstrings, there are a lot of scams out there. The most notorious ones are attributions to Confucius and to Sitting Bull, the first to project an aura of wisdom, and the second, Sitting Bull being an Indian chief who fought American soldiers, to evoke a sense of the noble native defending the land. Many times, checking sites that focus on “urban myths,” I’ve found that these quotations are bogus.
It looks like this prayer for aging gracefully is authentic but, lo and behold, it isn’t a saint involved here but a nun. In fact, it was the frequent attribution to “a nun” that got me convinced that the prayer is genuine. I know many Catholic sisters who sometimes talk with me as a fellow senior citizen and explain that one needs to be, well, a saint to be able to age gracefully in a convent. A sister described it as the “more of” phenomenon—the nice ones become nicer with the years, and the not so nice ones, well, become even more not so nice or, as our 17th-century nun-saint describes it, “a crowning work of the devil.” Amazing how after four centuries, if indeed the prayer was composed way back then, the situation hasn’t changed.
I sent the prayer to all my deans, a bit like a chain letter, knowing that some of them will in turn share the prayer with their faculty. My hidden agenda is that maybe the prayer will inspire more of niceness among our faculty. Life in a university, after all, can be as trying as in the convent and its “more of” syndrome. In fact, maybe it’s even more difficult because at least in the case of the nuns, they can invoke the divine with their colleagues. In the university, we have to be rational and all that.
Seriously, the prayer does offer the wisdom of age, which, as the saying goes, is usually squandered on the young. But this time, here’s an older person addressing people of her own generation, who sometimes are not very wise and torment not only their fellow geriatrics but also the younger ones. In fact, the punishing effect is greater on the young in cultures like our own, where you can’t talk back to an elder.
Read on, and if you feel that an older person needs old-fashioned 17th-century advice in this 21st century, here’s a quick Christmas idea: Get a copy made out of this nun’s prayer with a nice font (not italics, as in the copy I got, because it’s hard for the elderly to read) and send it accompanied by a nice gift like reading glasses. Chocolates have a calming effect, but check if you need to send a sugar-free version.
A simpler way, if you’re living with people who need to become saintlier, is to buy a few copies of the Inquirer, turned to the op-ed page and left around the house to make sure that Lolo or Lola sees it.
Copyrights on written work expire in 70 years, and besides, they didn’t exist in the 17th century. So here’s the prayer in full:
“Lord, Thou knowest better than I know myself that I am growing older and will someday be old. Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs. Make me thoughtful but not moody. Helpful, but not bossy with my vast store of wisdom—it seems a pity not to use it all, but Thou knowest, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.
“Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point swiftly. Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing, and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of others’ pains, but help me to endure them with patience. I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.
“Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a sour old person—some of them are so hard to live with and each one a crowning work of the devil. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And, give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so. Amen.”
I’m going to add a postscript here about the “sour old person” bit. One of the best gifts I got last Christmas was the note attached to it; a well known TV broadcaster actually wrote there: “For being such a sweet person.”
I gasped: “Me, old, yes. Sweet, ha, that’s a new one.” But thanks, Howie, I do try to be sweet most of the time. Most. In the Philippines, we actually look at sourness as an asset—“may asim pa” (there’s still sourness), a sign that we still have “it,” physically, mentally, emotionally, so maybe a bit of tartness is still fine. Sometimes we need to speak a bit louder, a bit more firmly, put younger people (and sometimes, people of our own age) in their place. A dash of wit, like a bit of vinegar, always helps, followed by the sweetness.
Take a cue from Asian cuisines, which appreciate a blend of the sweet and sour. That’s what we should aim to be: a sweet and sour Lolo or Lola.
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