CHRYSOSTOM THIRUMENI - A MODEL OF RETIRED LIFE
It is Chrysostom Valiaya Metropolitan’s active retirement ministry, which prompted me to write this short article for his ninety-second birthday celebrations. His life is an amazing reminder that nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without absolute dedication, commitment to a cause, and sustained effort. Valiaya Thirumeni’s retired life is an amazing model; he is wandering in the wilderness of the old age with his unique style and attractive style of communication. Life must be measured by depth than by length, by thought and action rather than time spent on building our ego boundaries. Of all the years we lived so far, how much of this was for our own needs and how little of this was for others. This other-centred life is a life that is really meaningful. Jesus is indeed a man for others and all seasons of life. Our Valiaya Thirumeni has been emulating Him all his life. He has been ‘living life of heaven while on earth.’ Commenting on the recent demographic changes of the affluent West some people say, ‘We have added years to life and not life to years.’ ‘Adding life to years’ should be our next big leap, it can only be done by breaking our ego barriers and letting other people into our lives and our lives into others. How little we know about friendship, friendship is really living within the life of another. On that basis, how many people that we know are our real friends? Counting friends is a game we play in old age.
It is usually lazy people who complain they cannot find time to do that which they like to do. “If only I had the time,” they mourn. Then they mentally prepare a whole list of things to do in their retirement, but then something else happens in preventing what they always wanted to do. In fact, people can generally make time for what they like to do; it is not really the lack of time but the commitment that is wanting. If you really want to get anything done effectively, it is always better to ask a busy man because he has the discipline to find the time slot for anther person’s need. An old proverb says, “Devil tempts the busy man, but the idle man tempts the devil.” One of the advantages of a retired life is that we have the power of choosing our own work, we keep our diaries and diaries do not keep us, but retired life is not a prescription for idleness. Before the recent credit crunch and financial melt down some well meaning people often would say to reasonably successful people, “you’ve done your bit, it’s time to give up this rat race; live the rest of your life in leisure; you’ve earned it. Let someone else take care of the world.” Time is often said to fly: but it is not time that flies; it is opportunities that fly away; wasted time is worse than no time at all. “I wasted time,” Shakespeare makes Richard II say, “and now doth time waste me.” Time does waste us in retirement if we are not careful; time is a sacred gift, each segment of the day is a little life in itself.
There are three kinds of retirements: voluntary, forced, and mandatory; circumstances of these vary and the quality of the retired life also varies according to these circumstances. Chrysostom Thirumeni’s is a voluntary and grace-filled retired life. With advancing years, we gradually care less and less for many things which gave us keenest pleasure in our youth. As our physical strength declines with advancing age, we feel less need for food and such, but more need for affection, attention and care from our family, friends and community. Hope for achieving certain self-imposed goals is gradually replaced by memory, but whether memory adds to our happiness or not depends on what our life had been. Now more and more people are losing their precious memories as well in their old age. Is this a blessing or a bane? There may be clouds in the evening sky, but the moon and stars may break through the cloud cover for a beautiful evening. Swedenborg imagined that angels reverse their life cycle and are returning to the spring time of their youth, so that oldest angel is the youngest and we see this in the retired life of Chrysostom Valiya Metropolitan. I am told that Thirumeni is very young for his age, very active, involved in speaking engagements number of times a week, and giving audience to visitors most generously.
In our churches we now have a large number of retired clergy and for them and others Chrysostom Thirumeni is showing a model of retired ministry without any straight jacket of constitutional restrictions. He is enjoying his freedom and others also can if they want to without compromising on their pensions and other privileges. Retired priests do not have to distance themselves from motivations that inspired them for their parish ministry. Now they have access to parishes without boundaries and open skies. They may change the type of work but, if still physically active, they should regard their health as a gift which needs to be continually shared with the needy. This is equally applicable to lay people as well. Our health is a blessing as well as a gift; the challenge is how we share it best in the current physical condition in which we find ourselves. Sharing is a way to show gratitude in deeds rather than mere words. Our work may need to be changed, not halted. The age of wisdom is one when we find new forms of activity worth sharing, plan them well, and execute them skilfully. Everyday in retirement has its bundles of surprises and miracles, everything that we are able to do after a certain age may seem to be a miracle through the amazing grace of God.
In December last year I read a very challenging and beautiful article in the Hindu newspaper from a 93 year old, Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer, on Jesus, entitled: “Remembering a glorious rebel.” Then he asked his fellow country men through a letter to join him in the ‘second freedom struggle’ to liberate the nation from the bondage of poverty and corruption. Each of us may know many other retirees who return so much to the communities from the gifts that they received in their active economically and intellectually satisfying life. I am very fortunate in knowing many such people in many parts of the world and they inspire me, but let me mention just few of them, who I have the privilege to count as good friends: Mr. Mathew Kallumpram of Manchester, who is eight-seven years old and continues to be active with his wife in building ecumenical relationships and just wrote a book, “One world, one God.” The other friend is Professor George Zachariah of Washington, who continues to write for journals and teach. The third is an amazing couple, Drs. Abraham and Mariamma Thomas of New Jersey, who contribute so much through their work with the American Association of Physicians and Dentists of the Mar Thoma Church. These people are retired and old but continue to contribute much for the common good of the communities; they are indeed members of a very specially privileged club and unfortunately its membership is declining with time. Let us pray for them and others like them who continue to give us such help in their retirement.
Yes, some rest and recreation is nice in old age, but too much is quite boring, some routine activities may become a meaningless repetition. Retired people may enjoy more excitement in helping others and organizing their thoughts; it may even be caring for their grandchildren for busy, 24/7 work-centred households. As our physical energy begins to decline, we may be forced to take less physically demanding jobs. Chrysostom Thirumeni is giving us such a model of retired life; it is an amazing model to develop in the 9th decade of one’s life.
Our tired world does not need more ‘psychologically retired people;’ it does need healthy senior citizens who have an important role to play with their skills, mental agility and wisdom. May be the current culture attempts to relegate old people to out of the way place and distant retirement communities. Retired people have so much more to give; in giving they gain their self respect, physical and mental health. They have so much social and spiritual capital, which they could invest it in the community. This way retired people will be able to use the ‘R’ word of retirement with honour fit for royalty and royal distinction. But at the same time, our body will tell us quite clearly when and how to retire with dignity from meaningless activities and not to make ourselves a nuisance and hindrance to progress. The mission of retirees may be one of involvement, not retirement; articulation, and not silence. Chrysostom Thirumeni finds support and strength in his old age because his gift is to obtain goodness from everything, which is indeed an amazing gift. May God help us to enjoy the blessings of Valiaya Thirumeni’s retirement ministry for many more years and may God continue to bless him with the comfort of good health and happiness.
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