This is a web-exclusive article on the theme “Aging with Dignity.” For more stories on this theme, see the July issue of The Mennonite, available here.
“Great posts on Facebook of your China trip,” my friend said when we met in the grocery store. “Was China on your bucket list?”
“Not really” I said. “The opportunity came my way and everything fell into place.”
I thought about our conversation later. I know some people have long bucket lists that they can never accomplish and that probably leave them feeling dissatisfied.
When I returned to Kansas after graduating from seminary I had two things on my bucket list: finish and publish the book that was part of my studies and build a labyrinth in my large front yard. My book has been published, but somehow making my own labyrinth now seems unimportant. There are opportunities to walk labyrinths close to home. I don’t need a personal one.
Instead of a bucket list, I am assuming the attitude of openness and attempting to live more in the moment. Go-with-the flow is the popular way of saying this. But mine is not aimless wandering and grabbing on to whatever comes my way. Proposing, planning, understanding both the macro and micro aspects and good organizational skills served me well in the workplace. Now that I am retired, I want a more open, gentle approach to life. A friend of mine calls it the ministry of availability.
As I live into this new way of being I realize I am sleeping better, getting more exercise and finding deep inner peace. A clearer awareness of myself and others helps me understand common human needs for respect, affirmation and dignity.
The bustling, busy city life of Beijing, China, I experienced recently reminds me where I felt most at home during my travels—savoring that cup of tea in the tea house, walking leisurely through the gardens of the Forbidden City and lingering in the hotel lobby for late night conversation with a new friend.
I experienced that same inner well-being and peace during Quaker worship at seminary and now during a weekly Centering Prayer gathering, while working in my garden or taking a walk with my husband.
When I had an unexpected visit to the emergency room while I was alone in an unfamiliar city far from home, I found that deep inner peace by noticing all the things for which I could be grateful: no broken bones, help came when needed, I had my insurance cards, I was able to call my husband and fly home the following morning.
At the airport, an anxious, crying mother found a place in front of me in the check-in line when I welcomed her and helped calm her through listening, gentle conversation, smiles and an engaging chat with her delightful 5-year-old daughter.
As I reflect on the meaning of peace in my life, I am grateful for being involved in peace marches over the years—as recently as 2017. I continue to write letters to the editor, send emails and make telephone calls to government officials that reflect what I believe to be biblical values for peace with justice. I’ve spoken out and preached about Jesus’ teaching and living in ways of peace.
This deep, more sustainable peace that I’m discovering as I age does not depend on a bucket list, accomplishments in the workplace or recognition and titles of importance. The peace I’m experiencing as I age comes from meeting God in the inner room of my soul, opening my eyes to my everyday experiences and encounters and recognizing the longing and yearning in others to find their own peace. A smile, a soft touch, a pause to listen, a word of encouragement—that is how I can be at peace and live in peace.
Elizabeth Raid writes for Rejoice! and has worked in various Mennonite-related organizations, including as co-pastor with her husband, Lou Gomez, at Mennonite Friendship Communities, South Hutchinson, Kansas.
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