Get out of misery in old age

An e-mail to my former English Lit. tutor Father Ambrose Mong (then studying for the priesthood in Rome)

Dear Ambrose,

It saddens me to hear of the depressing state of many of your aging relatives. You say one uncle used to be rich but is now broke when his business venture collapsed. Other relatives are suffering or dying from kidney failure and cancer. Many are bitter that after a lifetime of hard work, there’s nothing but the prospect of cashless misery and poor health at the end of the road.

In primary school we learnt by rote proverbs with little understanding or thought. Now that we are much older, the truth of many of these wise words have returned, often with a vengeance. I am thinking of the saying, “As you make your bed, so you have to lie on it.”

While we offer a listening ear to relatives and friends in straitened circumstances, there is precious little we can do to help. They have made their own beds, so to speak. Harsh as it is to say it, the truth is that bitterness, anger and a sense of victimhood will only add to the emotional and mental burdens of these people as well as to those near them who are also affected, especially their young children.

Be kind to your self, take responsibility

Life is really short, and the turn of events are usually unpredictable and most inconvenient. Knowing this, we make do as best as we can, and we share our cash and material possessions as much as we can, with less fortunate people. But few of us are willing to share to the point of sacrifice, especially when we know that much of the recipients' misfortune and misery are self-inflicted. People lost their life savings in a bad business venture or in the stock market. They lost their health because of alcohol, undisciplined eating and lack of exercise.

There is only one unpalatable advice to give them: take responsibility. Own up to the fact that there is no one to blame – not the government, their parents or sheer bad luck – but themselves.

It is not true that charity begins at home. Charity begins with one’s self – so, be kind to your self by accepting responsibility and then starting a programme of action to get yourself out of the rut that you’ve inflicted upon yourself.

If you are in constant poor health: Consult the doctor and start treatment faithfully. Follow a regime of graduated vigorous exercise. Eat plain, simple food (being vegetarian is best) and practise meditation.

I don’t believe in passive medical treatment – treatment to be effective must be accompanied by exercise (at an appropriate level) and correct, constrained eating (not dieting).

If you feel depressed and befuddled: Go to the public library and pick out appropriate books or magazines to read to re-focus your mind and lift yourself out of the mental rut.

Teaching old dogs new tricks

If you are broke and jobless but you still have the physical stamina and will to work, you need to investigate the kind of paying jobs available that fit your skill set. If your existing skills are unwanted, then investigate further how you can re-skill yourself.

Yes, you can always teach an old dog new tricks. In fact, old dogs are better motivated to learn, and smarter in the way they learn.

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter
Love and desire and hate
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.
Ernest Dawson, 1867-1900

The title of the poem is Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incobare Longam, which means in Latin: The brief sum of life forbids us the hope of enduring long.


Ambrose has since been consecrated as a priest and ministers to a parish in Hong Kong – Francis Chin, Sunday, July 24, 2005

Old couple on a seaside bench, getting out of misery