It is reckoned that there are more than half a million people over the age of 100 alive in the world today. It is an amazing age to reach, and Captain Tom managed it before dying earlier this week. His achievement was not to live a hundred years, however, but to bring the encouragement of positive thinking and determination to those, some much younger, who, dragged down by the problems they face, needed the inspiration of hope offered by one whose strength of character has helped us all. The fact that he raised £39 millions to assist the care of others is important too, but the greater achievement is psychological; it is of the heart and mind.
Yesterday, we read at Morning Prayer in St Mary’s of the day’s commemoration, which was remembering Gilbert of Sempringham, whose achievement was to establish new monastic communities of men and women in England, that were not of the already well-established orders from the Continent. These English foundations became affiliated in due course to one of those orders, but their beginning lay in the encouragement of Gilbert. We read yesterday the blurb about him before we began Morning Prayer, and discovered to our amazement (bearing in mind we are talking here of the twelfth century) that Gilbert lived to the age of 106. Did they get the dates wrong? Or, did this man indeed reach this remarkable age some eight hundred years ago? Whatever the detail of his dates, we do know that he encouraged women and men in his community, and used his resources to further the lives of others.