Growing older or growing elder.


This could be a good time.

It won't be long now. We baby boomers are headed toward old age. When we were eighteen, we didn't figure that would ever happen, that being growing old. Seems we were a bit naive, or perhaps pompous. Whichever, we've learned differently.

We are currently turning sixty-two at the rate of 330 per hour. This is an unprecedented rate, which will surely challenge the solvency of social security and Medicare, and will likely bring with it a new meaning for the word old.

I see elder as a bit different from old. Old carries no promises with it, other than impending death. Fighting it with facelifts or sport cars is both futile and foolish. A danger for boomers is that in our fight for unlimited longevity, we stunt our growth towards becoming an elder. Unlimited time, unlimited resources, unlimited information, lead us towards errors in judgment and complicity. We turn inward, reluctant to share the gifts that growing old has given us.

Old is chronological. Elder is different. We have grown older, for sure, and faced life, with all its complexities, all its promises, all its letdowns. But what have we taken from all that living? Where has it led us? At age 62, or 65, or 75, what difference the number? Would it not be better to be 75 years young rather than 60 years old?

Old connotes no particular status or knowledge. Elder does. Elder is used to indicate a position of authority. It derives its power from age, from being the oldest, presumably the wisest. Elders are thus thought to be qualified to council, to possess unique leadership skills, supported by age and experience.

Many people grow old, but few become elders. They may be elderly, which is age stacked on top of age, but are not using the wisdom they have accumulated through the years to help guide our younger generations or solve worldly problems. The call would be to help younger generations transition from childhood to adulthood to old age in such a way that they gain that elder wisdom which comes from leading a good life. This is not a presumptive, I'm smarter than you wisdom, but a knowing, an understanding of life that comes from having lived it to the best of your ability, a life that you have come to terms with, accepted, and an understanding that it will end, like all things do, in death.

We are in a trying time. We have been there before, but never quite like this. We have claimed to be unique and special. We are the most educated generation to have ever lived. We have been blessed with countless bounty. And our numbers are great. We will create the oldest United States since our beginning. Once again, we will need to respond to the calling. Can elders help save the world? Will we be able to rise to the occasion in the same way that Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, Madeline Albright, Walter Cronkite, Eugene McCarthy, the Dali Lama have? Will we be able to become more as our bodies become less? Is it possible that we are being called to save the world? And which will we choose: Growing older or growing elder?

Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time.”