How Does One Go About “Eldering?”
By Hank Mattimore
“All my life I struggle …but then my eye opens to the miracles that have kept me alive, that have let me grow older, and that gives me hope that there is eldering left for me to do.”
Rabbi Chaim Stern
Life never quite lets us off the hook does it? Even when we are retired from the workplace, the kids are grown and we are free to do whatever we want to do with our days, there is still a catch. But this kind of “catch” is good for us. It means we still have a role to perform, a part in the drama of life. As Rabbi Stern reminds us “there is still eldering left for us to do.” Each stage of life has its own mission to perform. For those of us who have seven or more decades under our belts, our role is to be an elder.
So what’s the job description for an elder? It’s odd isn’t it that when we finally reach the autumn of our years, there’s no one to tell us how we should go about “eldering.”
We are on our own. So I got to thinking. What distinguishes a true elder from other old people who simply put in their time on planet earth. I’ve come up with my own Hank’s List of the qualities I’ve seen in others and which I strive to emulate in my own life-things that turn an old guy or gal into an elder.
Is Grateful for life
I put this first because I believe it’s life’s great secret. Being grateful for life is a mindset, a way of looking at the world that is fresh and positive. It affects our interaction with people, the way we respond to pain and loss, out attitude towards things like forgiveness and compassion. Grateful elders, exude a sense of quiet happiness about them. They are a treasure to their families and friends.
Please don’t confuse this with that frantic and often desperate desire to stay young looking forever. I’m talking about a quality of the mind here, a willingness to keep learning new things, to take risks, to try things for the first time. With the dizzying pace of new technology befuddling even younger generations, this is a huge challenge for us gray heads. We have to avoid that tiredness of the spirit that makes us give up too easily.
Perspective. That’s what gives an elder the ability to laugh at himself and by example teach a younger generation that life is meant to be enjoyed. The old Negro spiritual goes “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” But you know what? The wise elder answers, “Yes, we do. We know all about your sorrows because we have experienced them. But life goes on, baby. We need to let our memories dwell on those wild and crazy moments we have had, the friends who graced our life, the gifts we’ve received, and the miracle of life itself. C’mon let’s go for a ride on my grandson’s scooter.
Has a life of the Spirit
My ideal elder doesn’t have to be a religious junkie. But I’m more likely to trust old folks who believe in a power bigger than themselves, someone who holds sacred the mystery of life and death, and is awestruck gazing at a winter sky. My ideal elder finds the Creator in the softness of a baby’s face or in the miracle of young love.
Is a great lover
Love is the gift that keeps on giving. It encompasses all; is gentle to all. Love includes all of the above yet transcends them all. I’m delighted to know elders who are wise enough to be grateful for life, smart enough to think young and have the ability to laugh, deep enough to be in touch with the God within, but unless they have the capacity to love much, their “eldering” won’t change a life or change a world.