59 - Come Of Age: The Case For Elderhood | part 3
Love Of Life & Beauty of Dying
The Function Of Elderhood
Storytelling, Wisdom, Grace.
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Welcome to future past. Woven together into the present moment. This is a call to action. An invitation to come of age. It’s a review of the book that just might set things right. For you, your children, the world. Listen, learn, love.
Tune in to part 3 of 3 where I share my highlights from Come Of Age, the recent book by Stephen Jenkinson. He is a man of magnificence. A true Elder and mentor to myself and many others. He is, among other things, an activist, teacher, author, farmer. In this episode, we explore the love of life, beauty of dying, function of elderhood, and more.
“In his landmark provocative style, Stephen makes the case that we must birth a new generation of elders, one poised and willing to be true stewards of the planet and its species.
Come of Age does not offer tips on how to be a better senior citizen or how to be kinder to our elders. Rather, with lyrical prose and incisive insight, Stephen explores the great paradox of elderhood in North America: how we are awash in the aged and yet somehow lacking in wisdom; how we relegate senior citizens to the corner of the house while simultaneously heralding them as sage elders simply by virtue of their age.
Taking on the sacred cow of the family, Jenkinson argues that elderhood is a function rather than an identity–it is not a position earned simply by the number of years on the planet or the title “parent” or “grandparent.” Part critique, part call to action, Come of Age is a love song inviting all of us to grow up, before it’s too late.”
So I am deeply grateful for Stephen doing everything he has done. I pray that he continues to burn the hardwood for our sake. I am also grateful for you to take the time and energy to give me the gift of your attention. I wish for you to tune in to this frequency and vibrate on the village mindset. It’s a cultural current of mystery and majesty.
Join the Virtue Squad and level up your life to a higher cause than yourself. Our lives are not our own. Our deaths are not our own. This is service for the whole life community. Let’s recreate paradise.
You’re going to love this high quality production. Stay tuned and subscribe for updates. Join me for an amazing journey. It’s a creative adventure that matters for people who care. You are worthy and I am here to serve you with excellence.
5:46 Recommended listening: Glenn Gould
6:32 The People Who Are Going
17:40 Spilled Wine Broken Cup
25:55 We’ll Both Be Old Men
36:36 Not The Buddha
45:30 My Mother’s Father
52:00 Etymology lesson: Sincerity
57:30 True Belonging
1:01:10 Never Be A Poet
1:09:50 Catastrophe: an etymological journey
1:17:00 End of book reflections
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The People Who Are Going
The work of the elder is determined entirely by what prevails and what ails a people at a given time. A hawker of redemption, the elder is as likely as not to derange the dusty furrow of habits personal and cultural. The elder raises up the possibility of transgression, surfaces the possibility that transgression is obligation. That is not violation for the sake of rupture or the jaunty spirit of overthrow. It is not an occasion for self expression.
Instead, the elder’s mandate is one of keeping a weather eye on the horizon, on the signs, and then changing course, with most everyone else below decks or in the rigging. The elder gives his or her waking hours to the swell below the culture’s surface, the one that remembers what has been and what has blown through, wrecked and wrecking and enraged.
So the restoring realization of the thing is that elderhood doesn’t reside in personality or character. They may be the horses that elderhood rides into town upon, but elderhood is wrought by occasion, by the needfulness of the times, not by the needs of the elder.
The work of being stilled, quieted when trouble comes: something there has the elder tone. Elders have no debt to torment, or to anything that binds them to a reflex of conscience or to rancor, or that makes them mimes to turbulence.
Elderhood is a visitation of contentious courtesy. And the elder finds the ability to praise—not approve, praise—in the midst of courtesy and knows depression to be a sign of the atrophy of that skill.
Elderhood in our midst is the willingness of some to testify to the grief and love tangle, to the loving of what has slipped from view, and to the grieving of what has not yet done so, and by learning endings, by being willing to slip from view, and then by ending. The elder’s job in a competence-addicted culture is not to prevail or succeed or win. It is to wane, and then to end, and to be good at it. This gives the rest of us a chance to get it right.
Elderhood is learning the work of blessing, and with greater and greater courtesy, seeking it, and by asking for its bestowal—and by bestowing it thereby. Crafty bastards, elders, and all along not letting on, all along not knowing they are. They confer blessing by raising and praising the worthiness of those they seek it from. The alchemy of blessing is known to elders.
We are in a time of extraordinary turbulence and devious misrepresentation and governing wisdom gone AWOL. I leave it to others to imagine the better world they know is out there waiting. I hope they’re right. My job here has been to articulate some sense of how things got to be as they are, aging-wise.
Those older people who’ve never had an elder-blessed time of life are in the same line-up for the same emotional and spiritual paydays as their children and, soon enough, their grandchildren. Some of them have thrown in the towel. They’re waiting it out.
I’ve been pleading throughout these proceedings for older people to give up being old long enough to consider elderhood as something they could help nurse into our midst. Looking to be rubberstamped into elderhood by other old people: that’s not elder work, and it’s not culture. That’s the activities room at an old folks’ home.
I was interviewed for a kind of “elder radio” program. The hosts were three older people who frequently referred to themselves as elders. I asked how they got to be elders. “Oh”, one of them said, “we decided that’s what we are. We just call each other that. Nobody else does.”
The fact seems to be that the greater skill in a troubled time is not figuring out how you can be an elder after all and get the gold watch to prove it, while the give-a-shit is still registering and the creakiness permits.
The greater skill in an elder-bereft time, the more village-minded skill, is to craft the ability to have elders in your midst. Do what you can to cobble together the ability to recognize the elder function when it appears, to give voice to the recognition, to praise it without understanding it, or approving of it or trying to get in on it, knowing the benefit that might come to those much younger than you if you do so.
The ones who conjure elders are not the ones who are seeking out their own elderhood. The ones who conjure elders are the ones who seek out an elder’s heartbroken willingness to testify for the sake of a better day, who corroborate that sorrow, who are willing to be wrong about older people and their truancy.
My plan, such as it is, is that young people begin to awaken to the understanding that it is their search for elders—sometimes grievance-driven, sometimes tried—that conjures elderhood in a troubled time. Young people drive whatever chance the sentinel species of elder has of coming back from the brink of tired, retired, redundant despair in the Anthropocene.
Coming of age in a time such as ours is an enterprise entirely free of hope. Young peoples’ search for elders might seem hopeless to the rest of us. But at its best it is free of hope too. Their search for elders is what call elders out.
An elder’s job is surely to proceed as if that day might come, to ready themselves when those two clenched fists are held to them, all plea and dare and despair. Sometimes an elder’s job is to prompt that day, by planting in young people the rumor that there is yet such a thing as elderhood.
We have a word: Catastrophe. Today it is another thing the world doesn’t seem to need, taken by many as another sign that we’re getting close to The Big One. Catastrophe is the very thing that shouldn’t be, another irredeemable affront, the caprice of the universe bearing down. Well, no surprise by now, that is only the most recent meaning. As a farewell, allow me to trouble you with one more etymological stone to put in your wandering shoes, to remember all of this by.
We have the prefix ‘kata’, from Greek. It is a preposition, and so it carries the volatility, the direction, the thrust and purpose of that part of speech. It answers the question, “Where?” The standard definition usually given is “down.” But the tone of the word is not a plummet, not a freefall in thrall to physical or existential gravitas. That is an answer that, frankly, has the inferno and hell below.
But in the days before hell, when below meant something like “beneath what we’re ordinarily granted to see,” this kind of descent had a purpose dictated by the Mysteries, the arche that stands under your life. So a more apt answer to the question, “Where?” might be “down, and then in.” Sometimes it meant, “A lot of down, and finally in.” Other times it meant, “Not down enough long enough, and so not in, for now.”
The prefix kata in our word means, “A descent to achieve diminishment, so that when the threshold of mystery presents itself, you are spare and spry enough to cross it and enter.”
And then the root word: ‘strophe.’ This is a word that swims towards us from the ancestral mists shrouding the Indo-European linguistic homelands. Today it is often used as a technical term designating a form of poetry or song. But its older meaning suggests “a thing braided or woven or gathered in pattern and strategy.”
When the word enjoys its reunion, its fulsome meaning is something closer to this:
“That rope or road that was fashioned for you in the Time Before, by those you will not meet, to give you a way of going down against your plans and good sense, to give you a way down and into the Mysteries of this life, the Mysteries granted you that you would not choose for yourself, the Mysteries that would yet make of you a human worthy of those coming after.”
You can hear in the current meaning of catastrophe the contemporary prejudice against descent of any kind, against hiddenness and mystery and being obliged to do anything that contravenes the vagaries of the will, that doesn’t cash out, that doesn’t seem to serve. It is a word that comes from the devotional life, from the life of discipline and prolonged inquiry into the Big Things.
Elders are heretics in the gilded chapel of self-determination, and they are servants of their elders now dead in times of trouble, and catastrophe is their word. We practice how to have time passing through us, and how to have ancestors, by how we are with our elders.
Catastrophe means that, yes, your descent unto the Mysteries will be a solitary one, and yes, you will have companions nonetheless. Please befriend the possibility that the way down is the companionship you seek. The path itself is a sign—the only sign you’ll probably get or need—that you’ve been dreamt of, and imagined, and chanted into life by those old ones who came before you.
Catastrophe is the job description of an elder.
BE A CATASTROPHE FOR THIS AGE !