Census trends show that we are steadily changing to a world populated – at least for a brief cycle of history – with many millions more people who are older. Rather than seeing this as a set of problems, as some are wont to do, we might well recognize that this also represents a potential blessing of the elders.
One can become old simply by surviving the passage of years. But an elder is someone who has earned authority and respect by virtue of advanced age, experience, integrity, and understanding. As history shows, for their families and for societies, elders can be, and frequently have been, profoundly steadying and enriching influences.
Not everyone who becomes old also becomes an elder. But some do, and many more could. In our era of raucous cultural transition, the world could benefit enormously from such a development. Young people who may feel confused about or disappointed in the world and their place in it, could especially benefit.
True elders are people who have gracefully accepted the passage of time, integrated their life experience with understanding, and made the fruit of their long experience available to others. But how does one do this? How does one become a true elder?
That question has long engaged my interest. Out of my inquiry into the subject came one of my Soul*Sparks gift books, Teach Us to Number Our Days: Keys for Adept Aging. It’s a concise compilation of insights that a great number of experienced elders have shared from antiquity on up to the present. My hope has always been that this little gift book would be a welcome and helpful companion for elders, as well as for people who are becoming elders – a category that includes all of us.