Corroborating the presence of elders

“The plight of elderhood is one of the human echoes of the ecological dilemma.

If elderhood is an identity and swept up with all the other identity clamor of our time then what you’d go about doing is looking for people with that quote personality type or that kind of wrinkle.

I’m gonna suggest to you that elderhood is not a figment of personality. It’s not an aspect of identity. It has nothing to do with the particular qualities of individuals.

Elderhood is first, foremost, and will always be a cultural function and in that understanding an elder is a culture worker and as such not inherently inevitably or mandatorily an old person.

Having said that I’ll acknowledge something that it would appear to me to be a truism that while all elders tend to be older not all older people are elders and so there’s something that works in that arrangement.

This means elders themselves must be on the steep learning curve and they must be deep running students of their times and their responsiveness to their times is what qualifies them. So the word response ability really works here.

You know it’s not a sense of burden the way people usually use the word, the sense of responsibility means simply the capacity to respond maybe to distinguish that from react. Maybe react, we could use that word to describe certain responses you have that attempt to satisfy you or assuage you or reassure you, whereas the capacity to respond might have nothing to do with you trying to feel better about anything – it might have to do with your sense of a kind of moral political cultural spiritual obligation to fully inhabit the conditions of citizenship if you will. But your citizenry is not to a particular geopolitical identity. Your deep citizenship is a devotional one, not an affiliation one and in in that sense you know the work that you join yourself to is dictated by your times’ troubles, and that’s what you’re a citizen of – you’re a citizen of a troubled time not Canada or the United States, or any other you know freewheeling entity today.

So if that’s possible then it means that elders are not in the business of getting themselves recognized, they’re in the business of recognizing. So you could say in a time when elderhood has gone into terrible abeyance, which is certainly our time now, then it becomes the eldering responsibilities of elders to function at the level of recognizing incipient elderhood in their midst and proceeding accordingly by acknowledging it, recognizing it, corroborating it, living as if it’s true, authorizing it without ever trying to be included in it or to benefit directly from it. You follow what I’m saying, okay? It’s a radical reading of what it means to be an elder and it’s not a club you get to join. It’s the ending of all clubs in a time like ours that no elder in a time like this, if I may sound programmatic about it, no elder at a time like this would ever call themselves an elder ever okay? Why not? Because this is the responsibility of the people around them – to recognize elderhood in their midst, to corroborate it and everything I just said. And if it doesn’t happen, it’s because there’s no elders to do so and because the appetite for elderhood has gone missing in the way we talked earlier about if kids or young people are not exposed to it then their appetite for it begins to atrophy and they trade it in for self-reliance or for a kind of principled anxiety that masquerades as having a conscience but it’s more at the level of just a chronic free-floating anxiety where you care about everything but only enough to paralyze you or to animate you with extraordinary levels of kind of sulfuric anger, an incandescent rage that doesn’t know how to proceed. This kind of thing, which is a kind of narcissism frankly.

So this is an awful lot to say in response to a short question but if at the risk of sounding like I’m giving a a formula of how to pull this off. I would simply say in a time like ours now, it might be the fundamental responsibility of people who may yet come to inhabit the elder function, that they must do so minus acknowledgement, minus recognition. And the way they do it is by corroborating the presence of elders around them. So a very quick way of saying it,  it would come down to this – the greater elderhood skill now is the skill of having, of knowing how to have elders in your midst. It is not the skill of knowing how to be one.”

Stephen Jenkinson

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