Geezers don’t have to go to seed
Let’s say you have just about reached the end of your years of service as a teacher or
pastor or administrator or retreat-giver. Or as an organizational consultant!
You may be living in one of our active communities, or you may need sgme of the care provided at an assisted-living center. You may even have reached the age when you can no longer drive yourself. You need someone to help you with that. But you are still mentally alert.
Do I have an offer for you! Well, actually, two.
I sense that for a lot of Ours there comes a point when they feel they have nothing to offer. They can pray, of course. And they do. And we are gifted by their prayer.
But there is still other potential left and it’s not being put to service — which was one of the key reasons for their commitment to the Society in the first place. And that is not only a loss for others; it contributes to their own diminishing sense of vitality.
Some years ago we in the Maryland Province watched the decline of a man who had devoted his life to teaching high-school Latin. He had come to the end of his ability to teach in a classroom. But deep in his being he remained what he had always essentially been — an educator.
So he let out the word that he was available in his residence to give individual tutoring in Latin to any kids that others would send to him. He stayed alive and alert for years through using the competence he had developed over all those years. The key was that others didn’t set it up for him; he took the initiative and, in the contemporary idiom, he re-invented himself.
What is the one characteristic that we can safely attribute to just about every Jesuit? We are educated men. And we can read.
So here are the two ideas.
A few years ago I had heard about a friend who was a reader for the blind. A simple phone call connected me with a service in Cincinnati called Radio Reading Service. In your city the title might be slightly different but it’s a reasonable assumption that there is something similar in your area.
In my case the service provides a variety of programs. Some of them would require that a volunteer be on deck every week at a given hour, say Wednesdays at 3:30.
That would be a difficult commitment for me to make because of my irregular schedule. But, fortunately, there are other options that allow greater flexibility. I found the perfect fit for my life and schedule.
It’s called Personalized Talking Print Service, or PTP. Volunteer readers might be asked to read the headlines from the daily newspaper, or perhaps the front page or the editorial page; or an article from The New Yorker. You don’t even have to leave own bedroom to make a valuable contribution. Or even be dressed and shaven! All it takes is a touch-tone phone.
After negotiating with the director and matching the volunteer reader’s interests with their subscriber needs, the reader — at his or her own leisure — punches in a code on the phone pad and reads the item in question into the phone. At the end of the reading another keystroke saves that oral transmission into the PTP system. The blind subscribers have already paid a small subscription fee to receive a special radio that picks up only the frequency of the service. On the other end the blind persons turn on the radio, at their convenience, and can hear any of the many items stored on the system.
My role is quite modest. Since I can’t read on a regular basis, I am a substitute reader. The PTP administrator has a list of the pool of readers and their availabilities. When one of the regulars is going to be unavailable, I get a call to see if it fits my schedule; if it doesn’t, she has more names to contact. I may actually read only once or twice a month.
But even filling in and taking a half-hour to read the headlines into the phone can be a very satisfying experience when you know that some blind people you will never meet have had their day enriched. I would think that some of our retired men with more regular free time could make the commitment to read on a weekly or even daily basis.
The second idea is a bit more ambitious, but not that much. And it also involves our gifts as educated readers. It simply involves the ability to get oneself to a public library.
In every large city you will find some service that connects volunteer tutors with adults who have never really learned to read and desire very much to do so. In Cincinnati it’s called LEARN
(Let Every Adult Read Now) and is sponsored by the YWCA. They do the intake and connect volunteer tutors with individuals who come to the service for assistance in reading.
The day I joined eight other volunteers for training, the administrator posted the names of 100 men and women who were on the waiting list for tutors, plus important information about the present educational level of each. It was my choice as to the kind of person I would feel most comfortable with — younger or older; African-American; recent immigrant; man or woman — they had them all.
Once I made my selection (a 48-yearold African-American butcher who had reached 10th grade but could only read at a 2nd grade level) it was a simple matter to contact him and work out times for us to meet in the public library for our sessions. Once again the flexibility fit me well. The program coordinators provide a library of texts designed for any level of competence.
I’m sure other readers of NJN will have valuable suggestions for putting our gifts at the service of others who can benefit from them. We need to share them with one another across our country. Through the Ignatian Lay Volunteer Corps Charley Costello and Jim Conroy have developed a great way for lay men and women to find spiritual fulfillment by giving back, providing service in their senior years. With some sharing among ourselves we might create a new designation for our Assistancy: "still working for the Church and the Society.”
(George B. Wilson, S.J. (MAR), does organizational consulting with Management Design Institute out of Cincinnati, Ohio.)