How is occupying elderhood different from being elder, being older? It is so important to know the role you want to own and occupy--and then hold it with a sense of clarity and authority. Too many times in my life I have stood back, waiting to be sure I was “authorized” to take a role or a position until confident of receptivity to my overtures. I’m coming to believe that just as a secure parent benefits adolescents who are unsure of quite what they believe, the mid-life and young parent generations can benefit from elders who are securely occupying that role. I’m suggesting that it is important to help them be who they are because we elders know ourselves and share ourselves securely in the give and take of relationships. If I consciously choose the role to the best of my vision, I am a truly reliable voice and a good role model.
So what does it mean to occupy elderhood, to sit right square in the middle of this life stage with pride and pleasure, with generosity and an open heart? It means knowing your own value, valuing and honing the gifts you are able to give authentically, and offering them with an unflagging air of satisfaction with being able to give your best. It means being an eager learner from the younger generations, understanding that give and take can be “measured” across a remarkable spectrum of age-appropriate options.
Effectively occupied elderhood entails realizing the importance of being a cheering squad, mentor, believer, lover, caregiver and receiver. It means knowing better than to take things personally, and yet knowing better than to expect ourselves to be vulnerability-free. So in the end, it means being willing to be embarrassed and how to apologize regularly with self-acceptance.
Consciously practicing elderhood leads to noticing how short a full lifetime can actually be:
ü how five minutes ago events from 20-30 years ago can be;
ü how actually limited are the number of Thanksgivings there are for getting together;
ü how incredibly short the endless years of raising children actually are in the context of a full life;
ü how completely the opposite of what you thought was going on was actually going on;
ü how vivid are the memories we make for one another – and what a difference random acts of kindness have made, life-long;
ü how much of life must—and has been—forgiven if you think about it;
ü how many “passes” have been offered through the gaze of love and kindness.
Occupying elderhood calls for being willing to give without counting the return—practicing faith in the long run of things, based on now having been at the wheel of a life with a long rear view in the mirror. Hopefully occupying elderhood means seeing the humorous side of things, insisting on the essential importance of having fun, embracing joy, taking risks and being grateful for each minute.
Occupying elderhood is best practiced by functioning with equanimity in a life where each day may offer the need to live with a “new normal” physically and maybe even cognitively. It may well mean coming to see the irony of such statements as “I’m dying to do . . . “ or “I’d rather die than . . .” or “This . . . is killing me.”
How important it is to be dead serious about lightening up! And it is important to be dead serious about holding the light, the light of hope for a good life for our upcoming generations, with all the creative energy we can muster.