The loss of elderhood
“Something has drawn our attention towards expertise and familiarity and comfort and away from mystery, and we’re missing something fundamental about what it means to be human and to be coming to the end of our lives in a way that traces our humanity, that leaves the rumour that it is good to be alive, even still, in the air, that makes of us ancestors worth claiming in the times of trouble that are surely coming. And this haunts me still.” — Stephen Jenkinson, Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble (pp. 3-4), North Atlantic Books
We’ve more old people than ever before, but so few elders.
This is the premise of Jenkinson’s extraordinary book.
In simple terms, because we’ve shunned the past in favour of now. Or more accurately speaking, we’ve laid to rest the tarnished reputation of doing without. More has been and continues to be our sine qua non. Sadly, that doesn’t square (in my book at least) with the values and inherent dignity of elderhood.
Perhaps I’m confused — not for the first time I might add — that the absence of elderhood is at least partially to blame for the neo-capitalist ideal that says if you can have it, then you should have it.
And look where that’s got us…
You see, unlike many other people I know, I can remember a time where there was a direct correlation between age and wisdom. Those days are long gone.
Some say I’m always on a mission and qua elderhood that’s probably right. Not to self-declare myself an elder (…oh, please) but instead to explore and reach out to those people that are willing to speak the truth of their forebears, especially those rooted to the earth. I can’t know in advance of my quest if they still exist but I’ve this strong sense that they’re out there but not necessarily in the places I currently frequent.
I don’t know, but I’d certainly like to reach into their hearts and understand why it is we’ve lost touch with nature, our soul and so easily fallen under the spell of consumption.
Trust me, this isn’t about me adding to my skill set nor understanding how I make sense of the rest of my life in the face of inter alia the mass destruction of species and the climate emergency. No, I just want to feel that deeper, rooted sense in the hope that I can finally reconnect all body, mind and spirit. The trouble is that having hung out in the business community, and despite my incessant angst with its modus operandi, I think I’ve lost touch with what it means to operate from a place of love. I realise that that’s way off-piste but just imagine it: a world of love. In that space, it’s inconceivable that we’d have built the monolith of industrialisation less still killed billions in the process.
I’m not being misty-eyed, honest. I sincerely believe that if we could find that deep transcendent place that lives deepest in our non-dualistic self that only then would we move beyond the motif of fear that so pervades any sensible discussion of why we’re unwilling to give up on consumerist ways in favour of something restorative of the earth.
In the end, my journey is mine alone but if you value something more than the next economic, spiritual or personal development fix then you too might consider what elders and elderhood can do for you and those you love.