I have been reading two autobiographical books. One is by an old college friend. He sets out in some detail the course of a ministry that took him out of traditional church responsibilities into various forms of community care. The other book is by an ex colleague, an Anglican priest, who reflects on his eleven years in the East End of London, which marked the end of his full time ministry. Vividly and with great humour he brings to life a stressful but rewarding experience. Both books are revealing, sometimes painfully so.
There were times when I was reading that I wanted to say –‘stop, that’s enough; this isn’t a confessional’. Whilst both have had interesting ministries, neither have been conventional practitioners in this strange art of caring for people because they are valuable in themselves, but valuable also to God.
What is this need many older people have to tell their story?
I suppose however many years we have to live, everyone wants to believe the journey has been worthwhile.
Identifying the years and trying to work out their personal significance and perhaps their value to others, is important to us. Amongst the few records my father left, he began a summary of the events of his life. Was he trying to keep track of the past as memory faded, or was it in his mind to write his story too? I have written four books, one of which was published. I see in it’s introduction that after suggesting who might find the book helpful, I add , ‘mostly I suppose the book is written for me’.
What has it all been about? Basically it’s been about the work we have done, the places where we have lived, the people we have known and whom we have loved and loved us with the wider history which we have in a small way part of. I suppose we fear all of it might have been of little consequence, and we will be lost in the maelstrom of the years.
Well, we will! But more important we don’t want to lose ourselves. Reflection belongs to our personal odyssey, not to justify our life, but to affirm it.