Christmas, 2023

Christmas for me a half century ago in Chuuk. (Time travel for an oldster.)

I wish this were a personal visit instead of a written greeting, but let this note with its brief update suffice until we do meet again. 

Any honest update from me would have to deal with the challenges of getting old, but you’ve heard all this from guys like me before. Maybe you’re even going through it yourself. If so, you know that becoming an old-timer does take a bit of adjustment. Not only to the aches and pains in the joints, but other things are just as bothersome:

  • Squinting through the windshield at night in the glare of passing cars as you try to find your way between the median and the edge of the road.
  • Writing notes to yourself on the back of paper that has been used again and again–not because of a desire to save the planet, but because we old-timers just skimp on paper and everything else.
  • Finding that your afternoon run (if you can call it that) may start with a burst of sorts for 30 seconds, maybe 45, but it soon ends with loud panting as you try to catch your breath. Then you find that it’s just difficult trying to keep your balance when you’ve bowed to the inevitable and begun walking.

Or what about lingering over ancient photos of yourself, even posting a shot from 50 years ago as though it represents the REAL you!  

Once there were articles and pamphlets to write, but not so much anymore–not because there’s nothing to write about, but simply because the words don’t come as easily as they once did. Synonyms are few these days, I find. So I now spend time working out crossword puzzles to try to recover a little of the vocabulary I once had.

This year was marked by the loss of special friends, especially the passing of Elsa Veloso, a close friend and colleague for more than 30 years. We lost other good friends recently as well: Pat Billington and Don Rubinstein, among others, along with a couple of Jesuit contemporaries: Tony Azzarto and Jim Keenan.

All this might sound depressing, but to me it seems like a replay of a hundred different movies I’ve seen and of songs we’ve all heard. “Once there were green fields kissed by the sun/ once there were valleys where rivers used to run…”  Too bad the wonders of the past have faded over the years, the song laments.

Maybe so, but I’ve been blessed to have enjoyed so many happy memories over what has been for me a full life. Thank you for the part you’ve played in the story that these memories reflect. The problems of forgetting names and words, running out of breath during our exercise routine, and panting over old photos of ourselves are modest when compared with what we have received. The wonders of the past are always dancing in front of my eyes.

We can cherish the past, I tell myself all the time, but we can’t afford to live there. Christmas is a reminder that we can treasure the gift of long ago by displaying our love for one another today.

Christmas blessings to you and all those close to you.

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About the author

Francis X. Hezel, SJ
Francis X. Hezel, SJ

Francis X. Hezel, SJ, is a Jesuit priest who has lived and worked in Micronesia since 1963. At different times he has served as high school teacher, school administrator, pastor, and regional superior to the Jesuits of Micronesia. He spent thirty years directing the Micronesian Seminar, a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Pohnpei, Micronesia. He has written and spoken widely about social change and its impact on island societies. He has also written several books on Micronesian history, including The First Taint of Civilization, Strangers in Their Own Land, and The New Shape of Old Island Cultures. His most recent book, Making Sense of Micronesia: The Logic of Pacific Island Culture, is available through University of Hawaii Press.