Passing the Mantle

Posted by Sarah Jane on January 9, 2010

We are a culture that embraces youth. Our grandmothers wear sexy lingerie, our church elders play Twister with the junior-high youth group, and our retirees learn to snowboard or play the electric guitar. There’s no age at which people are required to stop being desirable, playful, adventurous, or cool — and that’s good.

In our boundless fascination with youth, though, I worry that we have forgotten how much we need our elders to be elders, too. And maybe we have forgotten what a burden that role can be. It must be scary to offer a lifetime’s worth of experience and observations to a younger generation who may not appreciate or embrace what you have to give. My parents’ generation once rallied to a cry of “Never trust anyone over 30!” — will they now be willing to embrace the role of elders, to share their stories and their wisdom? Perhaps it’s especially hard to take up this mantle if you live in a culture that puts youth on a pedestal and goes to incredible lengths to avoid any sign of aging.

But we need elders. We twenty-somethings need someone to tell us all the stories of our families and communities — the stories that explain where our values come from, and how things came to be the way they are, and what we have learned along the way. We need someone to reassure us that our world really can change and sometimes drastically — that Hitler and segregation and the Berlin Wall were real, and that they were brought down by real people, too. We need someone to listen to our fears and concerns, and help us to think about them within the context of a world where wars and unemployment and health care and political struggles and religious questions are nothing new.

So this isn’t just a plea to my parents’ generation to take up the mantle; to carry it wisely and well. It’s also a plea to my own generation to cherish our elders, and listen carefully to their wisdom, and celebrate the riches they have to share with us. One day we will be the ones to pass that wealth along.


4 Responses to “Passing the Mantle”

  1. As an elder, I agree! *L* No, actually, I agree not only because I am an elder (51 — does that count?), but also because I think we lose a lot of wisdom by labeling that wisdom as irrelevant for today’s world. While an 80-year-old may not have much understanding of or interest in the internet, they might have something to say about communication in general that would help greatly. When it comes to the arts, a field that sees a lot of people leave it by age 35 or so, those who have hung in there are vaulable sources of experience and knowledge. We ignore them at our peril.

  2. Sarah Jane said

    Well, you’re my elder, at least — but you’re in good company, there. ;)

    You’re right about the arts having relatively few elders. I’ve been blessed to have had two great mentors who had spent lifetimes working in the arts. One is now retired and the other passed away in 2007 — not many of my own students will have the opportunity to study with such richly-experienced artists.

    It’s funny, though — instead of valuing our rare elders all the more, we often push them and their art aside as irrelevant or old-fashioned.

  3. Scott Walters said

    And the funny part?

  4. Sarah Jane said

    Not funny-haha, just funny backwards. In a normal economy, the scarcer things become more valuable. Or at least that’s what I vaguely remember from a long-ago econ class…

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