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Becoming a Wise Elder

Becoming a Wise Elder

We become elders by accepting life on life’s terms, gradually relinquishing the fight to have it fit our expectations.  Elders have no quarrel with the ways of the world.  Initiated through many years of loss, they have come to know that life is hard, riddled with failures, betrayals and deaths.  They have made peace with the imperfections inherent in life.  The wounds and losses they encounter become the material with which to shape a life of meaning, humor, joy, depth, and beauty.  – Frances Weller

Within days of my breaking my shoulder bone, my friend Marilynne shared the excerpt below from Francis Weller’s “An Apprenticeship with Sorrow” with our 20 year-old Gourmet Poets Society.  Timely wisdom for a time of slowing down and healing.  May it provide any inspiration and balm that might be useful right now.

Elders are a composite of contradictions: fierce and forgiving, joyful and melancholy, intense and spacious, solitary and communal.  They have been seasoned by a long fidelity to love and loss.  We become elders by accepting life on life’s terms, gradually relinquishing the fight to have it fit our expectations.  Elders have no quarrel with the ways of the world.  Initiated through many years of loss, they have come to know that life is hard, riddled with failures, betrayals and deaths.  They have made peace with the imperfections inherent in life.  The wounds and losses they encounter become the material with which to shape a life of meaning, humor, joy, depth, and beauty.  They do not push away suffering, nor wish to be exempt from the inevitable losses that come.  They know the futility of such a wish.  This acceptance frees them to radically receive the stunning elegance of the world.

Ultimately, each elder is a storehouse of living memory, a carrier of wisdom. Theirs are the voices that rise on behalf of the commons, at times fiery, at times beseeching.  They live outside culture yet are its greatest protectors, becoming wily dispensers of love and blessings.  They offer a resounding “Yes” to the generations that follow.  That is their legacy and gift.

When the season is right, when we have been tempered sufficiently by the heat of life, we are asked to take up the mantle of elderhood as the most ordinary of things.  Nothing special about it.  It is ordinary to know loss and sorrow, to be pulled below the surface of life and be reshaped by the currents of grief.  It is ordinary to be deepened by the draw of sorrow and its intense wash, clearing away old debris and outdated strategies.  It is ordinary to feel the aperture of the heart open because of our intimacy with grief.  No longer blinded by the allure of being special, we are free to take our place in the world, casting blessings by the simple offer of our presence, seasoned by sorrow.

This is how elders are crafted: tempered between the heat of loss and the weight of loving this world.

~ Francis Weller ~

Excerpt from “An Apprenticeship with Sorrow” ©Francis Weller​​

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