Monday, 8 February 2010
Father Ignatius was on his way back from a school trip to the museum in the big city with the young children from St Andrew’s School.
The young seven-year olds were a little boisterous and excited after their first school outing; and the six adults on the bus had their work cut out keeping them in their seats. When everyone was seated, Mr Foster, the Headmaster, took a roll-call to ensure that no one was missing.
As the bus made its way slowly through the busy traffic the children discussed amongst themselves their museum visit and the souvenirs they had bought from the museum shop.
A few of them sitting next to Father Ignatius discussed the various ancient exhibits they had seen from years gone by and asked him which were his favorite.
“I wouldn’t say I had a favorite as such,” replied Father Ignatius, “but I suppose it is impressive how many of these exhibits have survived all these centuries and how much we have to learn from ancient civilizations …”
“Are you ancient?” asked a seven year old.
“I suppose I am …” replied the priest with a smile.
Mr Foster smiled too, but said nothing.
“Will they put ancient people like you in the museum? And people will come to see you?” asked another youngster.
“Now that’s a good idea …” replied the priest, “do you think anyone would be interested?”
“No …” replied another promptly, “old people are not interesting … my grand dad is old … he is 58 and he does not like burgers and milk-shake.”
“Ah … that’s the ultimate test of antiquity,” declared Father Ignatius, “being 58 and having a dislike for burgers and milk-shake!”
The children continued discussing amongst themselves and the priest started reading a book about Ancient Civilisation which he had bought from the museum.
About half-an-hour later he closed the book and looked up.
“Learn anything interesting Father?” asked Mr Foster.
“I suppose so … whilst reading this book I’ve been thinking about our attitude to age and ageing …”
“What do you mean?”
“We seem to be in awe at something ancient …” continued the priest, “we wonder at the pyramids, and ancient monuments and relics. We marvel at old paintings by the great masters … and in this country we even have some buildings listed so that they cannot be altered or pulled down because of their historical architectural significance …”
“What’s wrong with that?” asked the headmaster.
“Oh … nothing wrong as such … but I can’t help wondering how many old people here in Britain live alone. Their families having grown up and moved on, these old folk are rarely visited by friends or neighbours. Perhaps Social Security visits them every now and again …
“There are quite a few in our Parish you know …”
“Yes … it’s modern society I’m afraid …” said the headmaster glumly, “people are too busy living life to care about each other … or their old folks. Some are too eager to put their parents in an old-folks home … too busy to look after them I suppose … I can understand that …”
“Can you? Some countries do in fact honor and respect their old people. Sending them to an old-peoples’ home is unheard of in those countries. They all live together in large families and the grand-parents have a lot to contribute to the family and the children’s up-bringing …
“But as you say … it’s different here in Britain … our modern lifestyles make us more interested in an ancient vase or similar relic than in human beings … it's such a pity we don't value our old people as much as we value an old building ...”
“Perhaps the Government should have old-folks listed, just like buildings!” joked Mr Foster.
Father Ignatius smiled. “There’s one thing I’ve learnt from this book,” he said with a glint in his eyes, “you’d better make friends with an archaeologist … because the older you get the more interested they are in you!”
The headmaster laughed and then added “Perhaps we can do something about it Father … in a small way … in our Parish that is …”
“What … have our old people listed by the Government or get them to meet up with archaeologists?”
“Can we not organize a group of volunteers from the church to visit lonely parishioners in our midst? Help them with the shopping perhaps, or with small jobs in the home or garden? I could get some of our older pupils to accompany the adult volunteers. It would help our youngsters no end … teach them to respect and help their elders … we could also involve the other Catholic school in town …”
And the enthusiasm of Mr Foster, which started from a conversation on a bus, soon turned into reality in a matter of weeks. And it's still going strong in that small Parish community.