"Elder" is the Answer.

April 29, 2023

"Elder" is the Answer.

May 29, 2023

In the warmth of my farewell morning’s sun from the patio of MEA’s Baja campus, a message came to me – one rising from the open conversations and deep learning my workshop days had offered. It rang clear and true: "Elder” is an invitation. "Elderly" is what happens when we don’t RSVP "Yes."

I was the oldest in my cohort, the only white-haired one amongst midlife learners and inspiring teachers. When we first gathered I noticed how some of the younger members of our circle watched out for me: offering a hand as we climbed a rocky path to soak in a magical sunset, encouraging me not to worry if I didn’t get up on my surfboard.

At least they did for our first days together. Then I noticed something new: their offers evaporated. It wasn’t that they were any less caring than when we’d first connected. Yet something shifted. I felt they were attentive to me, as a person, rather than to what might have been a more usual expectation about how a white-haired elder is programmed to show up in the world.

The shift got me thinking about how easy it can be to conform to the usual messages about elderhood. After all, reminders of aging come often and without invitation. They announce themselves through physical changes, ones we see and ones we feel. They show up as we sense a shift in our place in a society that values youth and the achievements associated with it. And they confront us as we face loss: uninvited farewells to people and chapters we’ve loved.

And far too often the media typecasts us, showing us in roles that are a subset of who we really are or by eliminating us from roles (unless we’re Jane Fonda) that are sexy, empowered, relevant, and vibrant.

No wonder my lovely circle watched out for me. I looked like the people they’re told need looking out for.

Which brings me back to that invitation.

Aging? It’s going to invite us in, in ways we expect and ways that take us by surprise. The price of admission to this thing called “Elder” is that very reality.

The way we respond, though: that’s what makes the difference between “Elder” and “elderly.” As Modern Elder Academy models in all it does, all it celebrates about this powerful chapter in life, “Elder” is an invitation. How we respond defines who we are and how we model the gifts of elderhood to all who will, inevitably, also follow that path.

Ellen Petry Leanse is a coach, author, educator, and podcast host whose work in neuroscience and values-based leadership fuels her commitment to those who will inherit the future. You can learn more about her at ellenleanse.com and follow her podcast, The Brain and Beyond, on Spotify, Apple, or wherever you do your listening.

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