58 - Come Of Age: The Case For Elderhood | part 2
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 2 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.
4:40 Recommended listening: Glenn Gould
5:57 Orphan Wisdom Forensic Audit Method
22:36 Soothsay It
28:07 Playing The Mercy Card
37:00 The River Of Abundance And Time
49:15 A Line
51:28 A Circle
53:50 A Spiral
1:02:38 Wilderness Adversary Town
1:12:45 The Rock And The Hard Place
1:17:00 The West
1:20:40 Casting Spells
1:41:05 The Truth Put Like An Axe
1:47:25 The World Tree In Wither
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“Playing the Mercy Card”
Yes, our lives are being extended. Do we get more youth because of that? Do we get more middle years? Is it tacked onto what would, in the old days, have been the end?
It seems to me from my years in the death trade that this question, “When does this more time come to me?” is answered by how you feel about getting older, and how you have lived out those feelings in the days when you weren’t old.
What I saw persuades me that if you abhor limit and ending and what seems like the ordinary arbitrary injustices of a life in unravel, the chances are very good that the time you cadge from what they offer you will be tacked on the end, adding to those limits and ends and ebbings away you found so unpersuasive, so optional, in your days of physical and emotional mastery. It has very much the cadence and the cant of the Kafka deal, the Catch-22: defeated in victory, undone by getting what you bargained for.
So, there’s the canto of despair awaiting its aging voice. Aging around here is you on the receiving end of caprice. Like the unwitting ex-spouse whose marriage took the assent of two and its ragged dissolution only took the disavowal of one, the aging person in our corner of the world is a tail on the end of life’s kite.
Aging doesn’t require your agreement, your acknowledgement, even your awareness. It just seems to happen. The settling in of your aged self comes as hard weather does—in blows and bursts, eating the horizon of possibility and potential by which your course was once set, all aboil and sudden and finding you wanting another moment to prepare, to demand recourse or consultation, your rightful due. Arbitrary, and random, like all hard weather is, that’s aging for you.
Then might come mercy. That might be the hard ground of the thing, you playing the mercy card. You never needed it in times of plenty, when you exerted dominion over your days. You hardly practiced pleading for it when you were drawing from your full pocket and from what you could afford to part with.
But now you’re older. You’ve grown into the fullness of your years, yes, but you’ve done so in a place and time that is practically elder-free. An etiquette of diminished expectation and decorum settles around you, but nothing instructs you now, nothing vindicates you having lasted this long. The whisper campaign says that the kindness of life grows thin with age, that the frailties of the time are a sign that you are being left behind by life, that the Gods have other business now.
Imagine that you’ll come into your fifties or sixties with little or no experience before you of the grace under pressure that elderhood makes of aging. It might be that you wouldn’t know mercy if it wrecked your threshold or crowded your hearth. All those years of learning the body and becoming a self and growing that fine addiction to comfort and competence are done.
The endings are coming into view. It’s the unbidden realization that you are deeply into the second half of your life, that you’ve seen far more of life than you’re going to see. If any wisdom survives the heavy weather of age coming on, it kicks in just about now, and you ask for mercy.
There are habits of the heart, and they are often broken in crude ways. Mercy being what mercy is, infirmity will break these for you. In the sway of all that loosening of the old ties, it may not have come to you yet that you lasting this long, with all of its allegations of loss, is the mercy that you seek. It isn’t all goodness and light, mercy, but it is a faithful sign that you growing down into your age is there, pending, hovering, possible. And, for the sake of the young people around you, mandatory. Neither its master nor its teacher, you are age’s practitioner now.
Your aging is coming to those who attend to your latter years. It’s coming to the younger people around you. It is one of the examples that they will bring to their aging time. Your aging—its meaning and purpose—is happening to them, you see, not to you. You practice aging, or you endure it, or you refuse it, and that turns into younger peoples’ lives.
You are being eldered by life itself, you see. And if all of this is happening not in the purgatorial privacy of your own misery and mind but in the presence of witnesses and in the light of day, in the forum where it belongs, where its meaning is born, then mercy is coming in, and younger people are being schooled in what is possible now.
When we say “the love of life” we seem always to mean the love we might have for life. It’s good if we have such a love, but it doesn’t seem to occur to us that life may well have a love, too, that this aging entrusted to us, might be the love that life has, coming into the world this time by riding us.
You might grant, no matter how well the enterprise has gone for you, that there is a cost to love. Weighty, restoring, fulsome, and as dire and dear a brush with the Divine as is likely, it is all of that, and it is costly too. What you’ve known love to be, is the casualty, the cost of proposing to make a go of love in this world, in this body, at this time.
And so it is with the tuition of elderhood. An elder is the devastation of conviction. He or she is the one whose certainty is over, whose plans are in ruin. The presence of an elder has that consequence for his or her allies and adversaries and neighbors. That is the cost of having an elder in your midst.
Elderhood is the extension of life’s hand, weaving and fashioning humans by the calculus of calamity. If you can find one or two, praise them for that noble service, no matter your age, that you might brace and gird yourself with their example, that there might be a few more elders in the time to come.
Time As A Spiral
Perhaps time comes and goes in eras of such abundant and gradual ellipse that it is more like the shape of a spiral. You could imagine a circle lifting up from itself, rising and remembering its penchant for returns and for the old ground, but opening to what is stirred by the whorls. Granted, it is a visual image and so probably not the last word on the shape of time.
The spiral of time goes on by doubling back, you could say. So it leaves nothing behind by proceeding, and it curls back over what precedes it, fingering the prayer beads of when and where it has been, the very time signature of time’s memory.
The way in which you imagine or picture things carries a whole wake of unintended consequences too, to go along with what you mean. In the case of imagining the shape of time itself, each shape conjures all manner of existential and primordial chimera, and determines the claims we make for fidelity to ancestry, regard for tradition or wisdom, or for elderhood.
Spiraling time is the one shape that seems to credit experience, to grant a seat at the table in the feast hall of life for what is learned and for its reappearance in the present as a tutor and abiding spirit. You could say that spiraling time is the horse that wisdom rides into the human endeavor.
If you are laboring away, crafting your normal life, enduring the spectacle on occasion, and glad of the steady road, you could be thrown, and perhaps you have been, by the sudden appearance in the proceedings of that which you’d dealt with, resolved, put away, sorted, and foreclosed upon years before.
Do not surrender to the old taunt that this is the same old thing, though, and that you’re nobody worth being all over again, and that this is just the way it goes.
Consider this grace: the first time these things swam towards you, or the fifth, none of them were your one and only chance to get it right. This is not fate, nor is it doom. This is mercy, carried to you by these days of yours, days not lost but coming round again. You are flirting with wisdom now, as wisdom is flirting with you.
That strikes me as the blessing bestowed upon us by spiraling time. It credits the passing of time as the medium of wisdom. The spiraling of time brings the restitution of experience. The possibility that the past is not gone from us nor binding us to repeat it, the real possibility that experience plus time can bring a wisdom tried by endurance, a wisdom eclipsing prejudice; this is the understanding of time that underwrites elderhood.
Hierarchy. The word has a bad PR firm working for it. Symptom bearer for a woebegone and elderless age, hierarchy is the straw dog for every convicted anarchist, every defender of the ninety-nine, and foe of the one. Get rid of hierarchy, and you’re halfway to heaven.
Until you learn the history of the word, that is.
The Greek prefix ‘hier’ means “of things sacred.” It does not automatically mean “above” or “raised up.”
And then the root word, ‘arche.’ You would recognize it in archaic, architecture, archer, archetype, arc, and a score of other words. Here it begins to lose its later associations with “ruler,” with “overlord.” The thrust of the thing is closer to fundament, or foundation.
Reassembled, hierarchy gives us something like this: “Those who locate holiness in this world by underlying the world, by coming before.” With this understanding and function you can see that the elder is the hierarch of his or her time, that the spiral of time is the medium and the engine of the wisdom hierarchies which are your proper inheritance.
Go back down into that river of time now, and wonder, if you would, about the same questions we began with. Where does the river of time bring everything and everyone to? What is its way?
The answer seems properly to be that the river of time goes to the past. When you obey its current, you are facing the past, which is out there ahead of you. That is where the river of time will bear you to, is bearing you to. That is what is before you, and yes, that is what is to become of you. In this one sentence you can see the spiral of time making its elliptical way. What is to become of you is already before you, neither repetition nor fate, only promise.
In that way elders are your future, a future that is here, a future that gets old, that ages before your eyes, if you are patient and inclined that way. They have their personal memories, yes, but as elders they are memory incarnate, one way life has of testifying to the presence the past has.
It is in the mystery of elderhood to duck out from under the straight assignment, the steady thing, the unerring time parade that seems to carry everything worth knowing and worth being away.
One example: elders won’t last, not the way you wish they would. But their ending lasts. It is there as long as you’re willing to remember it, and wish it were otherwise, and awaken to the realization that you forgot all about them and their endings, and your own. They’ll get back to you, after they’re gone, and they do it by your unwillingness on occasion to go it alone, and by your grief-endorsed willingness to turn to them, even after they’re dead. Especially after they’re dead.
The World Tree In Wither
Forsaking what has been for what might be, exercising dominion where being wet-nursed by mystery formerly was found, this is what withers the World Tree.
The old among us are regarded—when they are regarded at all—as largely being past and passed by, largely already done. In a culture addicted to potential, the old are potential in collapse, a pile of what could have been and now will never be in the corner, a burden needing upkeep but not sustenance.
The tragedy of the thing is that when they are elders they are sustenance.
Older people resenting age and any limit, who’ve shrugged off the world and the young, who nurse grievance and retirement, they are the visitation upon their people of the withering of the World Tree. These are the wretched encumbrances of an uninitiated greying person whose middle age is failing them. They are the withered and the withering, both.
Elderhood is one stout antidote to the learned insignificance that howls in the heart of those jockeying for recognition. The elder proceeds as if he or she is needed, rarely with any invitation to do so, that lack of invitation being as close to authorization as he or she is likely to get. The elder proceeds as if the sorrowing insignificance of the younger ones is all the prompt that is necessary or likely.
That inarticulate sorrow and the poverty that beggars and mutes it is what makes the case for elders in our midst.