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‘The great picture of his life’

This week for our retirement living section, I traveled to an assisted living facility in Warrenton to interview a man named John Sekelsky. After his Bible study, the other residents and I listened to the story of his life. I asked Sekelsky basic questions while the nursing home residents and volunteers pressed him for more details, entreating him to repeat old stories they had heard before.

The scene reminded me of a passage from Willa Cather's wonderful novel, Death Comes to the Archbishop. Unlike what the title suggests, the book is almost entirely about the life of an intrepid missionary archbishop.

But Cather also paints a beautiful picture of the archbishop's last days. His retirement gives him time to reminisce over his greatest accomplishments, his treasured friendships. "The Bishop was living over his life," wrote Cather.

She continues, "Sometimes when Magdalena or Bernard came in and asked (the archbishop) a question, it took him several seconds to bring himself back to the present. He could see they thought his mind was failing; but it was only extraordinarily active in some other part of the great picture of his life - some part of which they knew nothing."

As a writer, I believe each person has a story worth telling, especially the elderly. Fortunately, Sekelsky let us in on the most vivid memories of his life. It seemed to me a joy for him to tell it, and it certainly was a privilege for me to hear it.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016