I did not deride the old though I was young
The line above was written by Cormac Mac Cuileannáin, King and Poet of Cashel, CE 833 – 903 (Celtic Myths and Legends, Peter Berresford Ellis)). Derision of the old in western culture appears to have been going on for a long time. And not just by the young. I’ve heard people in their sixties ridicule others a decade (or perhaps not even that much) older than themselves with the use of terms such as “old cakes” and “geris.” And terms for older women are frequently much worse.
Do you dread the thought of becoming, or being, old? Take a moment to ask yourself why. What does being old mean to you?
Our present culture values youth but there are tribal cultures where elderhood is (or has been, until recently) acknowledged as an honored state. Take this Chinese proverb:
A family that has an old person has a jewel
The jewel of the old person is knowledge and experience that, ideally, leads to wisdom. The treasure is in having lived long enough to know the values that are important to a fulfilled and happy life. Having lived through sixty or more decades, the elder can look back with clear vision and pass on that insight to the generations behind him or her.
Although our bodies inevitably slow down and our physical energy lessens, the gifts of age should be the time to reflect, time to turn towards our deepest selves, and inner balancing. It may be a time to take on a new task or calling and to become moral leaders and guides within our communities speaking with the voice of experience, reason and wisdom.
It is helpful to each of us to approach this stage on life consciously, deciding on our roles and how we wish to interact with the world in new ways. We are often freed from the all-consuming tasks of raising a family and the demands of career. We can be free, also, of the unthinking acquisition of “things.” It is no wonder that, for a consumer-dominated society, the older person has no value and that the voice that speaks of deeper values is ignored.
How can we combat this outlook on life, one that sidelines the elder? We can start by questioning our own thinking. We need to shift the lens through which we look at ourselves. – from one of physical ability and ego, to who we are in a deeper sense. How do you live your life with a new understanding? We can start by speaking of elders in new terms that are not disparaging or dismissive. We can start by listening, and by spending time with the aged.
And we can begin a process of acceptance and celebration with ceremony. Creating such an event gives us an opportunity to pause, take stock and rethink.
An elder ceremony is an event that marks a passage into the new stage, and gives us a chance to consider the meaning of this new stage. It is a way of integrating the stages of our life. The timing for the ceremony is individual. It can be at age fifty, or later, depending on the feeling and readiness of the person. Some women choose to take on the role of elder after menopause; others will wait longer.
An elderhood ceremony helps us to focus on the experiences and goals of this new phase in life, a phase that is not one of moving to the sidelines, but of going further into our truest selves and the relationships that mean the most to us. We symbolically acknowledge where we are and we move forward without fear. We are welcomed into the tribe of elders, we embrace our role.