How To Be An Elder

When I was young, one of the things I was taught was to “respect my elders.” I suppose that came from my parents and grandparents, offered both playfully and seriously. I think some of it was when I entered faith community life. Elders were important. They knew things. They could help. There was an honor that was to be extended.

I’m 55 now. It’s a few years of living. Old enough to know some stuff. Old enough to know that I’m just getting started in many ways.

I began listening yesterday to some of the CD series by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, American poet and author, “How To Be An Elder.” I listened as I flew the last leg of a very long series of flights from Salt Lake City, USA to Brisbane, Australia (via Los Angeles and Sydney). I love these lines, these “secrets” that Clarissa Pinkola Estes shares.

  1. You were born gifted. You won’t live a normal life.
  2. Your gift is unique.
  3. If you ever find yourself drawn to the seduction of normal, get over it quickly.

There’s a story that Estes is telling about gift in relation to wound, which I find very helpful. The wound is so often, where the medicine lays, or is available. It’s your wound that can be transformed into gift, that can be offered to others. And, that growing into that wound, harvesting the wisdom from it, will create a “not normal” path.

I know that part of me that seeks normal life. I know the part of me that can’t stand or bear normal life. It just seems that there is so much more to discover beyond the realm of presumed reality.

You know, I think it was mostly the tone of Estes’ voice. I loved hearing her speak with such normalcy about wounds, how they shape us, and how our uniqueness is formed by leaning into that wound.

It’s a similar message to what my friends Roq Gareau and Dave Waugh write in their book, Soulful Fellowship. “If you are human, you experience suffering and woundedness. This very suffering and roundedness is invitation to giftedness and eldership.”

As I sit on a Brisbane Monday morning (turning to Sunday evening back in my home of Utah), I’m not sure why I think of these things. Perhaps because I can feel the adventure beginning. Returning to Australia. Teaching The Circle Way. Being with friends Amanda and Penny. Growing again. Trying to offer honesty with the people I’ll work with. Seeking elders. Trying to offer a bit of what I’ve learned.

I want to feel the journey in the way that Estes describes it. In the spirit of story. In the spirit of welcomed imagination.


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