One of the folks I visit regularly said something to me several weeks ago that has stuck in my mind. The gist of the sentiment was regret that the person was no longer “important.” I asked what it meant to be important and the response was that when the children were younger the person felt needed. When the grandchildren were growing up there was still a sense of being needed. But now, those days are gone. I attempted to invite this individual to consider the difference between being needed and being important, but am not altogether sure I was successful. So I’d like to process it here, and see where it leads – and then perhaps, hear what you think.
Being needed: someone needs or requires something that another might provide. An infant needs to be fed; its caregivers are therefore needed. Growing older I know that one day I might need someone to tie my shoes, and therefore that person in my world, will be needed. Being important on the other hand, seems to me to be about value, about significance or consequence. A child is taught to be kind, to be trustworthy, to have compassion; those people are important in that youngster’s development. In this, the last third of my life I am able to look back on a number of people in my life to whom I can point as being important; they have facilitated my discovering that I can be free to be me. Being needed seems a temporal thing, whereas being important strikes me as a part of what is lasting.
My new car has come equipped with a CD player which means I can now enjoy audio books driving to Newton and back. Recently I listened to The Notebook. At the end of the story both the narrator and his wife are in an extended care facility, he suffering from arthritis and cancer, and she with Alzheimer’s disease. His wife says she does not understand what’s happening to her, and says “I feel lost.” His response speaks to the lasting or eternal nature of our selves: “…there is no reason to feel lost, for nothing is ever really lost or can be lost: no birth, identity, form, no object of the world, nor life nor force nor any visible thing. The body, sluggish, aged, cold, the embers left from earlier fires, shall duly flame again…”
In church on Pentecost Sunday we sang “Come, O Spirit, Dwell among Us.” A portion of the text – with one minor modification – goes like this: “We would raise our alleluias for the grace of former years; for tomorrow’s unknown pathway, hear, O God, our humble prayers. In [each person’s] pilgrim journey you have led us all the way, still in presence move before us, fire by night and cloud by day. Come, O Spirit, dwell among us…”
My friend who I visited may no longer be needed in the way that was true many years ago. The import of that person’s life is however, undiminished. Let’s give thanks to God for the people and experiences in our lives that are – and continue to be – important.