"Without culturally endorsed deep employment of this treasure of experience that could be elderhood, aging is just more of the same with less of the give-a-shit. It’s all swoon, the sordid lunge for enduring at any cost. It’s an extended-play version of middle age, plus infirmity. And it seems to me that this is what the aged among us have become." — Stephen Jenkinson, Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble (p. 6), North Atlantic Books
I feel like I've been up half the night. I'm going to need plenty of coffee, fresh air and, well, a bit of fortitude to get through the day unless that is I succumb to an afternoon nap — not on the job, of course.
This heading, sadly, was at least partly to blame; I couldn't get it out my bloody head.
Will I make old bones?
Won't I make old bones?
Who really cares if I make old bones?
What is old bones?
But it's not really the point — at least of this post.
Instead, what does it mean to grow old? Is it simply a case of allowing things to take their natural course (it all goes South!) or something a little less obvious, a bit more nuanced?
It's no accident that I've quoted, again, from Jenkinson's masterful book, Come of Age. There's so much in that book to consider and apprehend that I wouldn't know where to start. But one thing that keeps circling around my pea-sized brain is why there are so few elders in our midst. And to be clear, age is not the only factor that connotes elderhood. In fact, not that I've met them, you (I'm sure) could find an elder under 20 who hasn't felt the need — thank god — to affix a shiny label marked 'Elder' to their lapel or, worse still, LinkedIn profile!
It's not that I've got a downer on old people but, right now, I'd love to know why we've no class of elders who are opining on the 'real' import of Covid19. Of course, it's arguable — strongly so — that elderhood doesn't confer any more wisdom than the gaggle of experts, politicians and thought-leaders that are all vying for attention. But surely, an elder is able to pick through the runes of this mess and offer us more salutary advice than the outpouring that's hitting our respective shores? Not that I'm holding him up as an elder — a great storyteller perhaps — but only yesterday did I read a wonderful article written by Dr Martin Shaw on Covid19 which, much like the interview with Jenkinson on the same topic, was more in the ballpark of what, not in great abundance mind you, I'd expect to be hearing now from someone — anyone in fact — be they an elder or otherwise.
Moving away from Covid19 just for a minute, my point is that the narratives that we've become accustomed to hearing are all or nearly all hinged on our future. There's no one that I've seen who has, save for some lullaby to the remaining indigenous tribes, looked at our past for clues, as I imagine an elder would be able to do, as a guide to our journey into old age. I'd love someone like that in my midst, not to reminisce or talk about the good old days, but to tease apart the patterns that are being made now, and consider what might be in the pantheon of the gods to assist us. I think particularly of nature and what's been lost in an age of separation. Even something so simple as knowing the plants and animals in our midst and knowing their stories might be a start in understanding our relationship, our real relationship, to them and the natural world.
I accept that this is a big subject and it may irrelevant to our present day, but I don't think it's any accident that I now find myself exploring those writers who've either lived in nature, drawn inspiration from it or have been apprenticed to an elder at some stage in their normally long and varied lives. Personally, save a few aspects of my paternal grandparents' lives, I've never had the privilege to spend time with anyone remotely resembling an elder. Sure, I've spent many hours with old people and I'm sure I've learnt a few things in passing but nothing that's changed or influenced my purview of the world.
Of course, your experience may be very different but then again, I wonder apropos the Covid19 debate or at all, what is it we're missing absent an elder narrative — which may actually be nothing more than living in the not-knowing space and not freaking out and expecting everyone and everything to be sorted by a vaccine and more of the same as we've had, economically, for the last 100 years?
The truth is, I don't know anymore what the future holds, but I'm tired of hearing the same things and feeling desperately ill at ease. Surely I can't be the only one who doesn't get it — the consumerist programme or whatever else it is that's driven us to this time in our lives where nearly everyone or certainly a lot of people seem desperately anxious to find meaning in their lives?
I know that I need to go much deeper on the subject of elderhood and that doesn't mean reading more books. It means seeking out a few people who might, if nothing else, point me towards my own psychic powers which I can access or bring to life in order that I don't feel so dislocated from the world.
Enough of my ramblings.