Stepping into Elderhood

by Simon Goland, August 26, 2012

I just finished celebrating a birthday, which included a series of surprising and diverse events. It started with a flood of messages on Facebook and a happy birthday song in a lobby of a hotel in Chongqing, China, with a beautiful view to Yangtze River. The various celebrations culminated with a surprising, beautiful, and touching evening at home, envisioned by my beloved – a cacao drinking ceremony in a Four Direction circle, and blessings and appreciations with a group of dear friends. I guess it comes with the territory of turning 50.

“It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” – Arthur Conan Doyle

Many of the appreciations mentioned a stepping into becoming an Elder (is “elderhood” a word, anyway?), and I have been thinking about the meaning of being an elder since. Probably because I don’t really see myself as such; to me, being an Elder implies a certain authority, wisdom, and a life of contributions that are, somehow, large in scope and significance. It is not merely a function of reaching a certain age.

In many indigenous cultures, the elders within each tribe have been the repositories of cultural and philosophical knowledge and are the transmitters of such information, including basic beliefs and teachings, encouraging faith in the Great Spirit, the Creator. These individuals, by virtue of qualifications and knowledge, are recognized by the their communities as the ultimately qualified reservoirs of their tribal skills and wisdom.

It feels as a fairly tall order to follow, if I am to trust my friends in the circle. And I do. So then, what does it mean for me, to accept and embrace – and honor – their perspective?

“Harmony is not the absence of but rather the equilibrium between opposites.” – Umberto Eco

Everything has two sides to it. Give and take. Danger and opportunity. Blessing and its curse. Light and shadow. Rights and responsibilities. Some strings are usually attached. Saying yes means accepting the right and the gift, yet also the responsibility that is the inseparable other side of the deal. There is no selective yes, and so better be fully and utterly clear as to what we are saying yes to.

There are times when such responsibility is not easy for me; I simply want a time out. Stretch, forget about all the responsibilities, put my legs on the coffee table and grab the proverbial remote. Yet, I know that doing so will be dishonorable my friends and how they see me. It will also mean I am dishonoring myself and my own gifts, passion, and purpose. The only reasonable choice here is to say yes, and own the responsibility of such becoming.

I am sure life will show me what does being an Elder look like…