The Coming of Old Age

The Coming of Old Age

While popular entertainment is usually about teens and other young people finding themselves, getting old is a different story. Many in my generation look back and ruminate on where they have been, what they have done and the meaning of it all. While what transcribes below, is consistent with this, I still believe my past is prologue to what the rest of my life will be. I just don’t know where it will go or how long it will last.

Gerald Eskenazi, a retired sportswriter, shouted in a recent WSJ essay, I’m Nearly 87, But Don’t Call Me ‘Old Man’.  No one has ever called me that and I just celebrated my 80th birthday. Even though I have exceeded the Biblical allotment of three score and ten, I do not feel or act ‘old’.  A long time ago, I learned that everyone has a history, that is a story to tell. Just look at the army of people with no more than a Warholian allotment of fame, who have written memoirs. I must confess that in 2018, I self-published mine. 

I called it Laughter Among the Thorns: A Vintage Catholic’s Coming of Age, with Geezer Press as my publishing nomenclature. I did not start with Dickens’, David Copperfield’s, first line, I am born! My first words were, I am old. It covered many parts of my life up to that point. My section headings summarize much of its content. From 50 Shades of Gray Hair, A Way of Thinking, Pilgrim’s Progress, to Body and Soul and A Foretouch of Heaven, I connected several essays, some of which were later republished on this site.

My 50th reunion committee at Holy Cross in 2015 asked us to write our biographies in 300 words. Below was my rendition that melded many of my life’s interests into a nutshell: 

I have heard that the Greeks never wrote obituaries. When a man died they simply asked: Did he have passion?  I think passion or its alter ego–enthusiasm has always energized my life. My wife of 48 years and I are responsible for three children and four grandchildren. While I never had a traditional career, I had several part-time teaching jobs, 28-years in talk radio, founded a historical society for the St. Louis Browns, wrote the Mindszenty Report for 11 years while seeing three of my five plays on stage. In 1972-74, I taught what is arguably the Midwest’s first accredited baseball course at Maryville College. Even landed an appearance on the Today Show with Gene Shalit.

In my second life I put Sabermetrics and Dave Anderson aside for the unborn and the mysticism of Chesterton. My life has been punctuated with joy, awe and the wonder of it all. I have flown with the eagles of Logos and danced with the turkeys of humor. I have browsed the shops of Dublin, prayed in St. Peter’s Basilica and walked the sands of Normandy and the streets of Valletta. With Pavarotti’s voice echoing in the air, I have stood on a deck below Stromboli as it belched hot embers on a quiet summer’s night.  

I have known the devoted love of one good woman, the nurturing concern of a few more and the grace-filled fingers of a practitioner of the healing arts of China who has given me an ontological foretouch of the world to come. Eat your heart out, George Bailey.

While my wife Judy had gone to every reunion with me since 1990, this one was her last rodeo. She died just 42 days after our 50th anniversary the following year. The next August, I met my Anna, whom I married on the Epiphany in 2018. With Judy, I had inherited her large family and the town of Charleston, Missouri. With Anna it was the Island of Sicily and another complete family. God had opened another world to me. I have twice been blessed with His choices of a partner for me. Thanks to my children, I am a four-time grandfather and two-time great-grandfather. Because of Anna, I can add two bonus daughters, two sons-law and a new sister and brother-in-law and five bonus grandchildren.  

During my life, I have kept my eyes wide open with regard to world events and half shut when it came to my marriages, as Benjamin Franklin instructed 250 years ago. My earliest source for wisdom was my father. He was an inward, almost shy man who was iaconic if compared to his only child. While I was not much of a listener, I must have subconsciously internalized much of what he said. I regret not having asked him many questions that have come too late. His best advice was make the best of it. This was akin to saying, if the world gives you lemons, make lemonade. From my saintly mother, I developed a sympathetic side to my persona.

My best guides include many of my teachers. I proudly hang all my diplomas on my ego wall, from Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, Xavier, Holy Cross, St. John’s University and St. Louis U., where I earned my Ph.D. in History. I am thankful to history teacher Joseph Caruso, who instilled in me a love of the past and Father Jones at Xavier, for my fondness for metaphors. Professor William Grattan and an adjunct teacher, Emmett Smith, at Holy Cross intensified my love of history. In Graduate School, I treasure Dr. John Willson’s course in Intellectual History and his seminar on Abraham Lincoln.  

The eternal question of Why has been a driving force for me ever since. The director of my dissertation told me that he thought I would make a fine historian when I stopped asking questions and started answering them. History changes so fast it is difficult to see all sides of it. Pointed questions help get at the truth of things.

I have witnessed a good deal of history in my life. I have lived longer than any presidential administration, having been alive for 15 presidents and seven popes. No king or queen has ruled longer. Only family dynasties will outlast me. I have traveled widely but only speak English and maybe rudimentary German. I am trying to learn Italian but they speak so fast that with my limited hearing, which required a Cochlear implant in 2020, my brain cannot catch up with them. But I love watching our Italian network that has 150 channels.

I have a sizable library and my kids know that my favorite present is a plastic gift card from Barnes and Noble. I seem to read more novels now, which provide, not only entertainment, but insights to the emotional side of our humanity. I read biographies and histories, especially about war. I just finished a 575-page tome on the Normandy invasion I started years ago.

Many writers have helped the development of my education and philosophy of life. On this site, I have praised Joseph Sobran and novelist Pat Conroy for their views on culture, history and writing. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen provided me with several insights to the Catholic faith. I always have a book on Catholicism in my current stack.   

I had never had a lay man or woman teacher until high school. For the last eight years of my education before grad school, I never had a class with a female student. So in many ways my views were not totally balanced. My way of thinking has broadened over my lifetime. Education is a lifelong continuum.  

I remember meeting a priest, as we stood on the Capitol steps in the summer of 1963. I told him I had attended speeches by Barry Goldwater and theologian Hans Kung at Holy Cross that past year. He quipped Oh you are conservative in politics and liberal in religion. I just loved the sound of his distinction. Politics is based on the distribution of power while religion rests on the Love of God and our fellow man, not something to conserve. I know that 60 years later that sounds a bit simplistic but it gave me a good foundation.

I had read Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative and thought it was very instructive. So I voted for him in 1964 and Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. The only votes I am truly proud of were the ones I cast for Ronald Reagan, whom I think was the best president of my lifetime. He was also one of the best human beings in our diverse crop of politicians. His folk wisdom, still plays today and no one since Lincoln has matched his wit.

Since eternal salvation with God is the main reason, we were created, the Catholic faith still stands tall in the major influences in my life. I have never attended a school that was not, at least ostensibly Catholic and had religious on their faculties.  My teaching resume lists Florissant Community College as the only institution that did not display our Cross. Somewhere along my long academic grey line, I learned the art of what Professor Vincent Ruggiero calls critical thinking. (I would be remiss if I did not add him to my list of intellectual influences.)

Regretfully, I have seen the Church change dramatically since I was baptized in September of 1943, especially under our 266th pope. I have written Two Churches, which was published here on June of 2015. One line explains my predicament. I am caught twixt and tween the old and new Catholic Church.

I was in college during Vatican II. A local Catholic physician, Dr. John Rock, was another guest speaker at the Cross. He was one of the developers of the first birth control pill in 1963. I vividly remember, Father Alfred Desautels standing up and reiterating that in times of controversy, one’s best guide was one’s conscience, in effect our last arbiter of right and wrong.

Since then, I have witnessed the Church endure a rupture over issues as diverse as birth control and the sexual abuse of mostly male adolescents. This rift has paralleled that in our politics these past 50 years. From my perspective these problems seem far more serious than the sale of indulgences that divided the Church in the 16th century. St. Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae, in 1968 sent the Catholic population into a greater turmoil, especially since most married couples thought the Church would relax its strictures after the favorable vote of the Marriage Commission, set up by two popes.  

Under Pope Francis, the chasm has widened immensely because of his constant berating of many followers of the traditional teachings of the Faith. His belief in the progressive evolution of doctrine is as deeply flawed as that of his political counterparts. Our immutable human nature is the one constant in the history of the world. As I read the signs, our culture has gotten regressively worse, bordering on a return to the catacombs. His possible blessing of homosexual unions will demean Christian marriage.

If someone were to ask me what was my favorite role? Teacher/writer would be third. Being a husband and a father are the two most important roles any man can play. I had no sisters and though I dated a lot of Catholic girls, I had only a superficial knowledge about women’s moods and bodies. Being married has been an education in itself. My first wife gave me the best advice I would ever get on marriage. She said: When I say jump, you ask how high? I became the highest jumping white man outside of the NBA. This is the main reason I am completing my 56th full year as a husband and father. 

I would be remiss if I did not mention my love for baseball. I have been an ardent fan since I heard my first Brooklyn Dodger game on the car radio 71 years ago. I suffered deeply when the Dodgers left us for the California glitter and gold in 1958. Heaven intervened and sent us the New York Mets, who reminded me of the St. Louis Browns. They were both lovable losers. But the 1969 Miracle Mets spoiled us by winning their first world series. We had to wait until 1986 for the second one. I am still waiting for their third. As we used to say in Brooklyn, Wait till Next Year.

Baseball has taught me much about life. I learned how to accept pain in defeat as well express joy in victory. I remember a CYC game where I came up to bat with a chance to win it for our 8th grade team. I promptly struck out. Our next batter did what I had only dreamed of. I was happy with our win but sad because I had failed.   

Like Catholicism, Baseball also appeals to the imagination. Both have special rituals, devout believers and long histories. In August of 2018, my The Womb of my Catholic Imagination appeared here. It began with a quote from Joseph Joubert, The imagination is the eye of the soul. This also applies to baseball. In A Day at the Park, another Journal article from September of 2016, I explored what it is like to dream about Heaven.

Surprisingly, the Church does not tell us much about the afterlife, which is the end goal of everyone’s time on earth. Without a firm understanding of Heaven, many have adopted a childlike image that after death, we will be playing golf with St. Peter or shopping with Our Blessed Mother. Why not a day at the ballpark? Someone once said, baseball is not just a Catholic game, it is God’s game. There is no time in Heaven. Theoretically, a game could go on forever…until this year when forever lost out to a time clock. Baseball’s first game has often been alluded as having been played at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1846, which sounds heavenly.

Since all of my childhood baseball heroes have died, I am reminded of the story about two players who wondered if there were any baseball in Heaven. They made a pack to communicate this to the survivor. The first passes away and then the following day, the other hears a voice from the sky. There is baseball in Heaven.  Before he could react, the voice added: You are starting tomorrow.

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Written by
William Borst