An extract from a beautifully reflective article (with the same title) by Alan John in The Sunday Times today:
THESE DAYS he is rarely referred to as plain Pope John Paul II. He is invariably described as the "ailing Pope" or the frail Pope", labels that stick to him like glue.
Actually, he began ailing through the 1990s, undergoing various operations, falling ill with Parkinson's disease. Franciscan friar Jack Wintz, present at the Pope's visits to the United States in 1979 and to Cuba in 1998, has described the change this way: "In Cuba, the Pope's athletic stamina was gone. His gait was slow and at times shuffling, his speech was often slurred and his hand sometimes trembled." [He's now confined to a wheelchair.]
None of that stopped the man from continuing to stay on the move... [And] there's no persuading anyone to drop the "ailing' label because the standard response is: "Just look at him. That's frail, isn't it?"
It is. But to focus on only that misses a powerful message in the man's refusal to let advancing years and increasing infirmity stop him from staying in the public eye. It says, people, I woke up this morning and there are things I have to do regardless of how I look and whether you like what you see.
It's a terrific attitude, even as he demonstrates in slow motion the downside of older age... What will you do when you no longer walk with a spring in your step, or become a shadow of the active person you used to be? Do you retreat to seclusion, or take whatever comes your way in stride and carry on? ...
But what I like best is how the SMS rumours may fly and talking heads may babble away, guessing the number of his days left, but by his actions the man keeps saying, again and again: It ain't over till it's over.
He may get more frail, but if he's in the mood for one more visit to one more town or country, this much is certain: He can still pull a crowd and pack a stadium.
And that's a grand way to go.
(See also Optimism Amid Difficulties.)