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September 18, 2003 Edition

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Grand Mom
• Guest column: Getting religion: Thanks, Mom and Dad!
• Guest column: God doesn't get laryngitis

Growing old gracefully:
Embracing age with pride

photo of Audrey Mettel Fixmer
Grand Mom 

Mettel Fixmer 

For more years than I would like to remember, I have been coloring my hair. It started before I had any sign of gray, but I convinced myself that I was "restoring" it to the color God intended for me.

I based that theory on the color of the long curls my mother had so lovingly cut from my head when I was a toddler and stored in her attic and then handed to me when I was 40. Believe it or not, I found a Clairol color to match perfectly.

Earning the silver

As the years went by, however, and I began to detect gray roots around my face, I started to wonder if I was missing out on something important: a rite of passage into ranks of venerable old age. That's why, when my daughter Gretchen, the hairdresser, visited us last Thanksgiving, I asked her to help me out.

"Just put some gray streaks into my hair," I said, "So that I can let it grow out to my natural color gradually."

"Sorry, Mother," she said, "That's not possible. We can create any color we want to except gray. It's a mystery, but that's the only color we can't duplicate."

"No mystery at all!" I said. "You can't buy it; you've got to earn it!"

At that moment I made up my mind that I would never color my hair again. I was eager to join the ranks of mature people who earned the silver and wore it with pride.

"But you will look much older with gray hair," my sister warned me.

I told her I didn't mind; I was ready for "old."

As the months passed and each haircut removed more of the blonde color, I had time to speculate on why I was enjoying this metamorphosis. I finally realized that aging, unlike the popular concept, was actually a fitting reward for making it through the tough years. Aging gives us a new license.

Senior perks

For instance, our kids often tell their father that they always suspected that he has long lusted to wear wild colors and goofy styles, and now that he is elderly he can get by with it. Live long enough and weird becomes "eccentric."

Somebody (I can't remember who) sent me a list of perks for the "over 50" crowd:

1. Kidnappers aren't very interested in you.

2. No one expects you to run a marathon. (You get credit for walking across the street by yourself).

3. People call at 9 p.m. and ask, "Did I wake you?"

4. People no longer view you as a hypochondriac.

5. There is nothing left to learn the hard way.

6. Things you buy now won't wear out.

7. You have a party and the neighbors don't even realize it.

8. You quit trying to hold in your stomach no matter who walks into the room.

9. You no longer think of speed limits as a challenge.

10. Your secrets are safe with friends because they can't remember them either.

Those 10 advantages are meant, of course, to minimize the problems of aging, and to view the situation with a light heart and a sense of humor. And we all know that humor is the best medicine.

Embracing evidence

It has been eight years since I published my book, Grand Mom, Growing Old Gracefully and Other Likely Stories. In that book I touted the benefits of humor to get through the childbearing years. I am still learning ways to grow old gracefully, and the idea of earning your silver is one of my newest discoveries.

Many cultures throughout history have venerated the older woman, the crone. Whether our society is still hung up on youth or whether they are beginning to show signs of appreciation for wrinkles, we ought to be able, as individuals, to embrace the evidence: silver, sags, and senility, with pride and gratitude. We were favored by God to serve Him in a richness of years.

Here's to long life!

"Grandmom" likes hearing from other senior citizens who enjoy aging at P.O. Box 216, Fort Atkinson, WI 53538.

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Getting religion: Thanks, Mom and Dad!

All around the Diocese of Madison moms and dads are making a collective sigh of relief after the rush to get new school clothes, backpacks, and glue sticks. Fall is in the air and Catholic schools as well as parish religious education programs are in session.

What an amazing act of faith it is for parents to turn their children over to school religion teachers and parish catechists with the hope that their children will be carefully instructed in the faith.

On behalf of pastors, directors of religious education, principals, parish catechists, and Catholic school teachers: Thanks, mom and dad, for your trust!

And yet, "getting religion" has much more to do with what goes on in the home than in the classroom.

As moms and dads we have the primary responsibility for educating our children. Moms and dads bear witness to this responsibility by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and unselfish service are the rule. Certainly, the home can be the best environment for the Catholic formation of youth (¶2223 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church).


Here are a few recommendations for moms and dads as they work to create a Catholic home environment in which the faith is passed on to their children:

Keep holy the Sabbath. Regularly attend Mass with your children and instill in them a sense of praise, worship, and awe of God.

Eat together and pray before meals. Life is so busy and the older our kids get, the busier they get. Savor the moments to gather around the dinner table, talk about your day, and thank God for his many blessings.

Look around your home. Does your decorating scheme include any "religious" artifacts? Pictures, statues, crosses, and different symbols of the faith have the ability to teach young people about Jesus without you, mom and dad, having to utter a word.

Say night prayers with your children. Consider not only saying the familiar prayers ("Hail Mary," "Our Father," "Angel of God") with your children but encourage your child to talk to Jesus. At the end of the day a good prayer starter for children is to ask them what they are thankful for and what they are sorry about - this is the beginning of a daily examination of conscience.

Remind older children to take time out of their busy day and talk with God. Just because they are older doesn't mean we as parents stop "nudging."

Bless your children. Consider making the Sign of the Cross on their foreheads as they go off to school, to play, and at bedtime after night prayers. It is a small ritual but a powerful one that they will remember and pass along to their children.

Set an example for your children. Live well, laugh often, and allow yourself to be amazed at the love and mercy of God. Such joy and amazement are contagious!

Love God, live well

St. Augustine tells us: "To live well is nothing other than to love God with all of one's heart, with all of one's soul, and with all of one's efforts; from this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted (¶1809 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church).

Let us, therefore, love God, live well, and enthusiastically share our Catholic faith with our children.

Jack McBride is associate director of the Office of Religious Education, Diocese of Madison.

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God doesn't get laryngitis

I've always found the best vocation discussion is simply to tell one's own journey to the priesthood.

My story is a bit of a confession. During the first 33 years of my life I did everything the secular world promoted as bringing happiness. I pursed my own interests with single-minded ambition - pursuing money as the ultimate "scorecard," relishing the power of being involved in large business deals, and traveling in a fast-paced, "business jet-set" lifestyle seemingly above the mundane aspects of ordinary life.

Now many of us must transact business, seek position, and travel for leisure or business, but I made these things my ultimate goal to the exclusion of Christ.

Yearned for meaning

Eventually, what was once my mistress became my master. I became world-weary, and yearned for meaning in life. It shows a great truism, "If we are not inspired by Christ, we will be haunted by Him."

Then, in the greatest act of mercy I've ever known, Jesus Christ pulled me from my self-made prison. I was in New York City on business and attended St. Patrick's Cathedral. I heard Cardinal O'Connor speak from the Catechism of the Catholic Church - it was the splendor of truth. I felt the urge to go to confession for the first time in years.

Calling to priesthood

The doors opened rapidly thereafter. Within four months, my life completely switched - the only thing that could satisfy me was to serve Jesus Christ as a priest.

Eventually, I decided to tell Fr. Kevin Holmes, then at Holy Redeemer Church on Johnson St. in Madison, that I felt a calling to the priesthood. I parked at the Lake St. and University Ave. parking lot one Sunday and walked to Mass. After Mass, I walked right past Father Holmes, failed to speak to him, and returned to my car. I chickened out. As I opened my car door, I resolved to go back to the church and tell him. Closing the door, I walked back down State Street.


However, Taco Bell loomed - I thought one couldn't do this on an empty stomach. It was fearful procrastination. I went in, purchased my meal, and sat down.

Surprisingly, a down-on-his-luck man came and sat right next to me and told me of his recent unemployment. As the man finished his story, I remarked that I hoped he could find another job.

He leaned over and said, "Are you a priest?" I shockingly said "no" as I almost crumbled my taco. He leaned over, looked at me in the eyes, and said, "Are you sure?" It was the most profound moment of my life.

Eventually, I finished my meal and wished the man luck in finding another job. He responded, "Luck has nothing to do with it, everything is the work of the Holy Spirit."

I marched straight from Taco Bell and told Fr. Kevin Holmes I wanted to become a priest.

Only a vocation can bring happiness

I discovered the hard way that only a vocation can bring happiness, not an occupation. My only regret is that it took me so long to realize this truth.

God doesn't get laryngitis, but we can get hard of hearing. Fortunately, God can never be outdone in His generosity - priesthood is the world's best-kept happiness secret.

Fr. Jim Bartylla is pastor of St. Ignatius Parish, Mt. Horeb, linked with St. Mary Parish, Pine Bluff. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 25, 2001, at St. Raphael Cathedral, Madison.

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