Image by Matteo Vistocco.

Each month, Pope Francis asks for our prayers for a specific intention. For the month of February, the prayer intention is for the Terminally Ill. Additionally, we annually commemorate the World Day of the Sick on 11 February. For these prayer intentions, Jefferies Foale CP shares a reflection.

I follow every stroke at Australian Open tennis, and I feel myself making the same moves, full of youthful energy, as I grasp the arms of my wheelchair.

Tennis is a long way behind me now. Over the years I have done many things, exercising brain and body to the full. I am a capable person. It is true that things have changed gradually as the years have rolled by. Energy and endurance have declined, but I have shrugged off the diminishment as I have continued to find meaningful outlets for my powers. But now, suddenly, here I am sitting in a wheelchair.

I have been telling everyone this incident will pass and I’ll soon be back. All I have to do is find a doctor to fix me, put me back where I was, allow me to carry on with my accustomed activities. But then, in quieter moments, I find myself rehearsing the conversation that might take place with this imagined magical doctor. What if the doctor says. Oh, it’s too bad. You’ve got a crook heart, you’ve got crook lungs, crook back, crook legs, crook whatever; and you’re not going to be doing very much at all. You will be keeping that wheelchair. Forget about taking on responsibilities. You are retired now. An inner voice tells me that this is close to the truth.

My sense of freedom used to be supported by the reassuring feel of car keys in my pocket. At any moment I could jump in the car and go wherever I chose. The world was open to me. Today that pocket is empty with an emptiness that I feel in my bones.

Let’s face it. I am an elderly invalid.

I depend on others and experience their kindness. I have to learn patience, as I am no longer the one in control. The things I can’t do make a long list. But slowly I have begun to notice that there are amazing things that I can do, things that I’ve missed all my life. I stop to smell the flowers. I watch the birds and listen to their song. I glory in the sunset. Life speaks to me in new ways, and I find myself contemplating calmly the mysteries of creation. I am enjoying this.

Many people younger than me have already left this world, and yet decrepit as I am, I live on. I have plenty of time to contemplate my coming death, and plenty of time to reflect on all that implies. As a Christian I look forward to wonderful things, without having the slightest idea of what that could possibly mean.

I look around at the world and all the events that are unfolding without my participation at all. My time is over, my contribution is complete. This is just a little coda on the end of the music. As the saying goes, I have one foot in the grave. I am on the way out. And what a good thing that is for the world. Up till this very moment I have been indispensable, impossible to do without, at least in my own opinion. But think about it a little, the cemetery is full of indispensable people.

We indispensable ones need to move on and make way for another generation, for others who will bring new imagination, new passion, new energy to the world and if what we did was worth anything, what is to come will be built on our shoulders and rise higher and higher above anything we ever could have done.

Steve Jobs said “… death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”

Jefferies Foale CP