When I was a kid in Great Falls, Montana, my parents taught me to respect my elders. To me, that respect was a given. However, over time I have learned that our society often casts elders to the side and does not revere them in the way one would hope. I have no grand answer as to what has created this belief that elders have less to contribute than others except that our society looks more to tangible results rather than supportive and coaching positions. Elders have their own purpose in later life and while not all embrace it, many continue to help pass on experience and traditions to those interested in learning.
It is a great feeling when you can see that the respect is still there. There may come a time in his life when grandpa passes on the torch of residing over Thanksgiving to dad, but grandpa is still there for support and for stories. And who would dare to show disrespect to their own grandmother? Our elders have experienced drastic societal changes throughout their lives, and this creates an astute vantage point from which to offer perspective on our lives today.
An elder’s wisdom comes from a lifetime of experience. This is not to say that all elders reflect on their lives and cultivate wisdom, but the ones who do, have the opportunity to learn and grow. I have noticed in my thirties that I know a lot less now than I thought I knew about the world when I was in my twenties; we learn from our experiences. Elders can help to mentor and coach us, to illustrate stories and parables that allow us to learn from their experiences and apply this learning to our own lives. While a young sapling may help build a fire, a mature tree can help build a house.
I have always liked the word elder, the idea of a sage wisdom keeper. I find senior citizen to be a bit demeaning, and while it is not insulting, it connotes infirmity and perhaps even illness. On the other hand, “senior”, by itself, simply illustrates a senior person, one that is more advanced… I am okay with that, but elder…that is the term that grabs at me.