Do You Welcome or Dread Becoming an Elder?

February 21, 2024

Do You Welcome or Dread Becoming an Elder?

May 29, 2023

"Elder" is a jarring word for some. Sounds too much like "elderly" and is a reminder of one's age relative to those around you. For others, "elder" denotes a stage of life you've earned, wisdom you've gained. Everyone becomes older, but not everyone becomes an elder. I loved it when the Airbnb millennials called me their "modern elder," someone as curious as I was wise (according to them). It reminded me that being an elder today is not about reverence but relevance.

I want to thank MEA alum Victoria Cummings for introducing me to this powerful, extended quote from Francis Weller, 

"Elders are a composite of contradictions: fierce and forgiving, joyful and melancholy, intense and spacious, solitary and communal. They have been seasoned by a long fidelity to love and loss. We become elders by accepting life on life's terms, gradually relinquishing the fight to have it fit our expectations. Elders have no quarrel with the ways of the world. 

Initiated through many years of loss, they have come to know that life is hard, riddled with failures, betrayals and deaths. They have made peace with the imperfections inherent in life. The wounds and losses they encounter become the material with which to shape a life of meaning, humor, joy, depth and beauty. They do not push away suffering, nor wish to be exempt from the inevitable losses that come. They know the futility of such a wish. This acceptance frees them to radically receive the stunning elegance of the world.


Ultimately, each elder is a storehouse of living wisdom, a carrier of wisdom. Theirs are the voices that rise on behalf of the commons, at times fiery, at times beseeching. They live outside culture yet are its greatest protectors, becoming wily dispensers of love and blessings. They offer a resounding 'Yes' to the generations that follow. It is their legacy and gift.

When the season is right, when we have been tempered sufficiently by the heat of life, we are asked to take up the mantle of elderhood as the most ordinary of things. Nothing special about it. It is ordinary to know loss and sorrow, to be pulled to the surface of life and be reshaped by the currents of grief. It is ordinary to be deepened by the draw of sorrow and its intense wash, clearing away old debris and outdated strategies. It is ordinary to feel the aperture of the heart open because of our intimacy with grief. No longer blinded by the allure of being special, we are free to take our place in the world, casting blessings by the simple offer of our presence, seasoned by sorrow. 

This is how Elders are crafted: tempered between the heat of loss and the weight of loving this world."

-Chip

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