I just learned of the passing of Jean Vanier. Vanier was a priest who dedicated his life to serving some of the most underserved members of society. I first encountered him when he came to speak at Holy Blossom Temple as the first ever recipient of the Rabbi Gunther Plaut Humanitarian Award. I was instantly taken by his quiet, dignified demeanor, the gentle sweetness which he radiated, and the simple wisdom of his words. He was one of those people who embodied the best of a spiritual life, and it showed so naturally.
He's appeared as a guest on the wonderful podcast "On Being," and it's worth a listen. One thing he said on one of his appearances there (I couldn't find the right one) really stuck with me--he talked about growing older, and growing infirm, and he said that one of the joys of it was that he was finally forced to learn to let other people take care of him.
That struck me, because it is precisely the opposite reaction that most of us have to growing older, and less independent. I can't tell you how many people I've heard lament their loss of independence, and how frustrating it is to no longer be able to fully take care of themselves. And, I get it — I can't even begin to imagine what it's really like, and I'm certainly not looking forward to it, myself. But, it amazed me that this man found a completely different way to understand his new reality. He saw beauty in other people being willing to do for him what he had been willing and eager to for others all through his life.
That doesn't necessarily mean that, given the choice, he would choose this for himself. That he prefers this dependence over this former way of living. But, he wasn't given a choice in the matter--he became frail, and he needed help. And, rather than rail against it, he chose instead to find beauty in it.
And, it is beautiful. Again, I'm not claiming that I'm looking forward to that day, but there is an undeniable beauty in a person being willing to give so freely and deeply of themselves. And, if we allow ourselves, we can be even more appreciative of that beauty, and that gift, when we're the recipients of it. I don't know if I'll be able to, but if and when my day comes, I hope I'll be able to receive it as he did.
Rest in peace, Jean Vanier. May your memory be a blessing.