Our elders are leaving us. Slowly, slowly one by one. We are reluctant to let them go. They’ve given us so much but selfishly we want more. More time together, more memories to make. Some of them left us too young but some have braved this life for more than 90 years and we know they are tired. They have pulled us through good and bad, through war and peace. Their love for us is deep and true. We know all that but it does not lessen the pain.
When we came into their lives they were as young and as idealistic as we once were not so long ago. They had their dreams and hopes. They were scared and unsure too but they moved forward. Growing families, working jobs, buying homes, nurturing. In time their work was all for us. Their hopes and dreams were for us. They wanted to build a life that was better for us. A life full of opportunity. A safe haven, material comforts, an education. I am not sure what they wanted for themselves and when I was young, I never asked. With such a large brood of children, it was easy to put their own lives aside.
We loved them and we fought against them and then we came running back. We often missed their fear or their flaws and struggles in the egotistical glow of youth. We were certain we knew so much more then them. We were children of the 50’s and 60’s, a time of such human upheaval that they could not possibly understand what our lives were like. We didn’t stop to listen to what wisdom they might have for us. Oh baby it’s a wild world. How sweet and naive we thought their concerns were. The world was different now, they could not possibly cope. We forgot they fought in devastating world wars. We forgot they lived through the Great Depression. We forgot they lived through the Civil Rights Movement which forced them to rethink everything their own parents had taught them.
But now the tables have turned. Now we are the older ones although when they were our age we thought they must be so old. I did not appreciate age. Now that they have made it into their 90’s we can understand what age truly is. Now we appreciate what they were doing. Now we know what their lives were like. Now we understand that hopes and dreams do not disappear with age but grow and change. They are just as strong. Learning never finishes. Dreams don’t die. At the age I am now, my mother flew across country to spend a month with her first grandchild. My aunt decided to learn to play piano. Now we want their advice. Now we can see the strength and joy of those lionhearted loved ones as they struggle with their fragile bodies. Now we want their lessons, we want their wisdom and we want to become young again. To savor the things they had tried to give us when we were so young and naive. To curl ourselves into their loving arms.
Now our own children have grown. We try to tell them our lessons, our wisdom and sometimes they listen but they must go their own way too. Such is the circle of life. Many of us are celebrating weddings and new births. Some of us are grandparents. I am soon to become a mother in law. Time passages. We can only hope for a full life of more than 90 years. The time has flipped on us. Now we are the caretakers. We worry over them, what they eat, how they feel. It is our turn to step up and give back what they have given to us. And watch, and listen and learn. They are teaching us how to walk into that sunset. With a head held high and no regrets for being the flawed, fragile, amazing humans that we are. They have taught us well. They have taught us how we take care of each other and I am so proud of how well these venerable souls have been cared for by my siblings, my cousins, my peers.
In many traditions, the elder is the symbol of wisdom and esteemed respect but sadly in our western culture, age is not as revered as in other cultures. We try to fight age with medicines and surgeries and hair dye. Youth or even the suggestion of it is prized beyond belief. As a culture we are often in awe at what an elder might possibly achieve. How great is our hubris to believe that innovation can only happen with youth? How is it that the tender age of 40 or 50 should be considered over the hill? At that age we have not even reached the summit.
Now we bear witness to true age; it’s wisdom, it’s grace, it’s ravages we cannot escape. We don’t realize how very lucky we are to have had these amazing elders bring us into this world and pass our entire lives with us. The measure of pain at their leaving is only exceeded by the level of pride we have that we are their children. We are their family. It’s what they have always wanted for us and for themselves. They should be so proud of their legacy and the love they leave behind. Thank you, dear ones. Godspeed.