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Reform Magazine | April 22, 2019

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On the pilgrim way: ‘When I get anxious, I think of Agnes’

Sheila Maxey looks ahead, inspired by Agnes

‘Out with the old and in with the new!’ we used to say, cheerfully and loudly, on Hogmanay, at midnight, when I was a child. We would shoo the old year out at the back door and welcome the new year in at the front. I remember it as exciting to talk about our hopes for the coming year – holidays, moving on at school and becoming old enough for certain privileges, an older sister expecting another baby. Sometimes I would hear an adult say ‘good riddance’ to the old year. Now, it all seems more complicated.

A granddaughter looks forward to this new year with excited anticipation: she hopes to leave home for film school. Her mother is trying to prepare herself (or steel herself) for her daughter’s departure but memories of the childhood and teenage years which will never come again keep catching her unawares. An old friend fears that she will no longer be able to climb the stairs of her house by the end of this new year. A 50-something-year-old family member is poised between sadness – at a relationship ending and a shared home broken up – and the excitement of a new career and her own new home.

I have always been a long-term planner. I recently booked a river cruise for next October. But in the past, it never crossed my mind that a planned event might not take place. Now I am old, I no longer feel so confident about long-term planning. In fact, sometimes I would like to stop the clock while my husband Kees and I still have sufficient mental and physical health.

When I begin to get anxious about the future and a bit nostalgic for the past, I think of a woman I met again last autumn. I will call her Agnes. Agnes is about 80, was widowed long ago, and has daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters all living near her. She is a stalwart Christian. Two years ago, she was diagnosed with a serious form of cancer. Her condition is now terminal. She has much of her pain assuaged by morphine in various forms, and she spends part of most weeks in a hospice.

Agnes has told her family she wants to die in the hospice. Meanwhile, great-grandchildren come for tea with her every Wednesday, and she is teaching a seven-year-old great-granddaughter to knit. When I previously met Agnes, she was hurrying to finish a knitted jacket for a two year old. At that time, she wanted to live long enough to knit another one for that child when they turned six. I was inspired by the way she was fully living in the meanwhile.

New mercies each returning day, /hover around us while we pray; /New perils past, new sins forgiven, /new thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven. John Keble (1822)

Sheila Maxey is Book Reviews Editor for Reform

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This article was published in the February 2019 edition of Reform

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