By JON M. SAMUELS
We buried Jack Moore the other day, and I miss him.
He wasn’t the kind of guy I would have noticed. I’m a busy executive; he was a retired curmudgeon. We got together because Msgr. Thomas Evatt of Aiken’s St. Mary Help of Christians Church said, “Go see him; he has some financial issues.”
Our first meeting didn’t go well. He seemed a nice old codger, but not especially tuned in. You know the type. Over the next eight months, I was reminded time and again that this first impression was incredibly inaccurate.
I mistook his lack of hearing for a lack of intelligence. I thought him vague about his needs, forgetting his generation did not seek help easily. I was bored by his need to talk and overlooked his loneliness. Worst of all, I completely missed a very civil man.
Fortunately, Jack had a forgiving nature, and he stuck with me. In the following weeks, I came to realize that John Clarke Moore was a man of substance. His difficulties weren’t really financial. Jack’s principle problem was that he had no reason to get out of bed. People like me had relegated him to the dustbin.
Realizing I knew nothing about his problem, I sought advice from my counselor, Father Joseph Norris. Now I was in the military for many years and received orders from great generals, but none matched the directions I got from Father Joseph for brevity and relevance. “Give him some place to go, something to do and make sure he knows you care if he does it!” I came to realize that those 19 words captured the essence of geriatric psychology.
Given the opportunity to “go and do,” Jack Moore reinvented himself. He set out to develop a guide outlining the services available to the elderly in Aiken County. With the help of a few of his friends, he personally visited the 33 agencies involved, cross-referenced their services, prepared a well-received booklet and became an important member of several committees dealing with seniors. Until his health failed, Jack worked at this project every day. He became a respected member of our social service community; he walked straighter, dressed better and spoke more firmly.
The vague old man of our first meeting disappeared, replaced by someone with miles to go before they slept. He and I discussed these changes several times, and he offered some very interesting observations.
He said, “At some point, people begin to treat the elderly as if they are children.”
He related an incident in a local restaurant when a well-meaning waitress patted him on the head, tucked his napkin into his shirt, and said, “Now eat a good meal, Sweetie.” Even in the telling months later, I could see how this embarrassed him and what it must have done to his self-esteem.
He also observed that, “People pay little, if any, attention to the opinions of the elderly even when the subject at hand directly affects them.”
Jack was a man with strong opinions, and he didn’t appreciate being overlooked. He felt it was essential that people have the courage of their convictions and, even more important, that they have the courage to face the consequences of their convictions.
For example, the county politicians who curtailed free transportation for the elderly because not enough folks availed themselves of the service angered Jack. He noted that those who did ride these vans did so because they had no alternative and without the service they were prisoners in their homes. “If you vote to chop these vans, you need to personally drive these folks to their doctors,” Jack declared.
“Good health in old people is a direct function of their mental state,” he said. “Happiness breeds good health. There is a miracle pill that cures depression in old folks, and it’s called a sense of purpose.”
We should have listened to Jack more closely!
Along the way, I learned some other things about Jack Moore.
Severely wounded in infantry combat during World War II, he spent months in the hospital. He came within a literal inch of death and then never thought it important enough to mention to his family.
He labored hard every day of his working life as one of those “faceless bureaucrats” we love to deride. His job wasn’t glamorous and didn’t pay especially well, but he felt a real commitment to his employer, the U.S. government.
At the height of his worries over his own financial security, he put something in the collection plate at every Mass. He did this often at the expense of his own comfort. He was a man comfortable in the presence of God and counted enumerable blessings in his life.
He read the Bible to shut-ins and stories to disadvantaged children.
Jack did all these things quietly. He didn’t see himself as exceptional in anything. He dismissed my observations about his courage in combat and refused to believe his charity was anything special. Jack was loyal to his God and faithful to his family, friends and country because, to him, that was the minimum acceptable behavior.
When I think about Jack, I’m reminded of a line from the poem “Elegy in a County Churchyard” that goes, “That there is great good in this world, is due in no small part to those who lived unremarked upon lives and rest in unremembered graves.”
Thinking about Jack today, one question troubles me. What could Jack have accomplished if he had been given a second chance at 71 rather than 81?
I wonder how many other Jack or Jill Moores, now in the winter of their lives, are out there waiting for society to give them one more shot? How many are in our own dioceses?
Perhaps we can memorialize Jack by reaching out to our elderly. If 10 percent of our families would befriend an older person in need, call them daily, take them to dinner occasionally, give them somewhere to go, something to do and let them know we care about their accomplishments; miracles might result!
In the days since Jack’s death, I have thought about what constitutes a courageous life. Certainly single acts of valor, humility or charity qualify. But for most of us, courage is forcing ourselves to take another step when it doesn’t seem all that worthwhile. Jack had that mastered.
How does one sum up a man like Jack Moore? He clearly was much more than the sum of his visible parts. Above all, he was an incredibly decent man.
That’s not a bad epitaph. “He rests a decent man.” Those are words every one of us would be proud to have appended to our name.
Jack told me once it was a miracle that I came into this life. He was wrong. The real miracle was his impact on me when he came into mine.
Jon M. Samuels is a parishioner of St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken.