Where have all the elders gone…?

Gone to care homes, every one.
When will we ever learn
when will we e-ver learn?

Do you have in your life someone who demonstrates any or all of the qualities named below? When I’ve worked with groups of people who are trying to become more conscious of what eldering is about, or who an elder is, these qualities are identified over and over.

Radiates love
Accepts me
Believes in me

If you are young, would you not desire to have someone in your life who manifests these qualities? If you are older, do you not yearn to find and show these qualities?

Among observers of modern mainstream society, there is a saying that is unfortunately all too true: “We don’t honour our elders, we warehouse our seniors.” On the other side of this perception are the results of a survey done of people in nursing homes who were close to the end of their lives. They were asked if there was anything missing in their lives, and the most common response was that they felt a need to give back but had no opportunity to do so.

The media contributes enthusiastically to the alienation. Advertising portrays older people as rather silly and often somewhat juvenile, as cranky and overbearing, or as trying to stay young rather than allowing young people to do that while they accept their roles as elders; in short, as irrelevant. Now and then (remember “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”?) they are allowed to be refreshingly human, to be on their own journey of healing and their own search for wisdom as they address the struggles of mature life.

This is a great loss. We have an increasing population of older people (the first of the Boomers turned 75 last year) who deeply desire to share their experience, their wisdom, and their stories, but are hindered from doing the thing they want most to do.

In my own journey, I realized about 25 years ago that it was up to me to create a community, to create relationships with people across the spectrum of age, because no one and no structure in my society was going to do that for me. Many of us no longer have extended family or real community to bind us together, to support us as parents or partners or flawed and beautiful human beings who are doing our best but find ourselves lonely or lost.

I decided that I would create courses, offer events, and maintain contacts that would keep me in touch with younger people. This, in essence, is why the Firemaker Gathering (www.firemaker.org) came to be: to bring people together. One of the reasons for its success is that it accomplishes this effortlessly, within the focus of the study and sharing of ancient skills and knowledge.

I began inviting friends of all ages to my house for potluck dinners from time to time.  Grey hair, no hair (babies), young families, older couples, and singles of all ages came to share food, play music, and be together. By the fourth potluck there were too many people for the house to hold. What to do? My solution was to separate the group by age: one event for young folks and one for older ones. To my delight, the first time we had the older people together, they asked where the kids were, and when the young people gathered, they said, “Where are the elders?”

One of the blessings of these events and the friendships that have developed from them is that I stay young in my heart even as my body and mind grow older. More and more I find it effortless to remember and bring forward those qualities. I am honoured to be called Grandfather by a small number of younger people, and I reciprocate that honour by addressing them in turn as Granddaughter or Grandson.

If you are becoming an elder (not all of us are–some are just getting older), take the time to make, to create, relationships with younger people. Ask them what it’s like to be them, listen to them, and learn from them.  Tell them stories, but don’t start with “When I was your age…”! Be joyful with them, and find things to celebrate. Appreciate their presence. We will all be the richer for your courage.

Published April 26 2022



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