My “Elder” Brother

Reading about elders this morning. I turned 73 in September and if there is a time when someone is to be considered an Elder, I think I have arrived. But I am not here alone. I look around at those I love who are in this same age bracket and I see a bunch of Elders.

Elders, says Thomas Moore in his article “7 Steps to Becoming an Elder” in Spirituality & Health magazine, grow into  their role, mostly without much consciousness. Most probably don’t even know who they are. He gave the example of his own father who, in his later years, enjoyed teaching young people about plumbing and water treatment. Moore said he never used the word Elder and didn’t think about what he was doing except passing on knowledge to kids. This passing on of knowledge concerning the technology of water treatment Moore calls “direct learning”. He said that there is also “indirect learning”. He said his father was also showing young children that an old man can find joy in his life’s work.

I was thinking about my brother Chuck this morning who is dealing with pancreatic cancer. He’s had some victories over the last two years, but there has been a steady loss as well. Loss of energy and loss of capacity to do the things he once loved. His world is getting smaller and smaller as he is tied to his treatment plan and as he faces one problem after another, problems that are often caused by the treatments rather than the disease.

But his wife tells me that Chuck still tries to show up to his grandsons sporting events. He likes to get out and eat at favorite restaurants whenever he can muster the energy. He still wants to see old friends. She said, “He doesn’t have much energy to talk but he likes being with them.” I am so inspired by this man. I am not yet in his shoes, but if I know that if I have to face a disease such as cancer, I will walk differently through it because of him.

My brother has been known to  speak wise words when we were together. His political opinions are well thought out, grounded in his own life experience as a union man and as a man who has payed attention to events that are now history. He payed attention, he learned and he is passing on what he learned to the younger generation. This is what Elders do. They teach with their words and with their actions.

We are close in age. Chuck is my older brother by 4 years. I may be an Elder myself, but I will never stop needing Elders in my life to guide me. It is a matter of grace that one Elder happens to be my brother.

For My Brother Ron

I read this morning an article in Spirituality & Health, Growing Elder by Joy Hosey. Hosey met an indiginous elder in Kakadu, a national park in Australia, home to Australia’s indigenous people. The elder’s name was Bill and she was struck by the way he looked at her, “as if time stopped. He wasn’t so much looking at me but into me, through me,” she wrote, “and I felt a vastness in that looking. In his seeing, I caught a glimpse of Reality beyond my limited understanding.”

Later she writes her sense of how eldership emerges no matter where we live or the culture in which we live. “As I become more invisible in our youth-oriented culture, I also recognize my inherent value to those who seek me for guidance. I wonder where I will be living and who will be caring for me…My hope now is to accept my limitations, receive graciously, and fully express what I came here to express…The most powerful elders I’ve known have a dignity of deep respect for all life-and for their place in it. Liberated from proving themselves, they are aligned with playing the part, no more and no less. They are keepers of the past in service to the future.”

I share this with my brother, Ron, in mind. I have watched his Facebook posts and recognize the strange combination of frustration at the unwillingness of society to learn from its mistakes and peace that there are many in the younger generation that are beginning to do their part.

As  elders, we’ve not finished doing our part, but our part is definitely changing.  For me and for Ron, using means like blogging and Facebook to speak our truth is one way to keep contributing. I am glad that I no longer worry whether anyone is listening. Those whom God ordains to hear the message will hear.

In a Cottage Near Becida

I am writing from a cottage in the township around Becida, MN. The little house belongs to my daughter and her husband. I love it because it is separate from the main house, a dream spot for a visitor and no doubt nice for Kate and Jerry who can have part of their morning to themselves. I know that in my own home surrendering the quiet mornings is the hardest part of having guests. The guests are usually family members that I need to catch up with so I tolerate the temporary break in my routine.

So far today, I read while consuming a pot of coffee, did my yoga routine (outdoors facing the rising sun) and meditated, also outside. I don’t know where the mosquitoes were. And frankly, Scarlet, I don’t give a damn.

I have some goals while here. I like helping my adult children when I am with them. There is always something around the house they don’t have time to do. Kate and I will talk over breakfast about what she may have in mind for me. We will do some exercising together. I want to support her in keeping up with the exercises she has to do to fight the Parkinson’s disease that has now come to occupy her body. We are going to work on eating, too. This last goal is always a goal when I come here but every time our resolve dissipates before we get to the end of the first day. This time I am determined. “I think I can. I think I can…I will. I will!”

 

Speaking of Guns

It popped up again on Facebook the statistics of gun deaths in the United States vs. in other countries. I took the time this morning to search the internet for other statistics and the findings were quite consistent. In the U.S. there are 10.2 deaths per 100,000 people per year. The next highest nation is Austria with 3 per 100,000. Our neighbor to the north has 2.3 per 100,000. When comparing the United States with nations we would assume to have more, such as the those in the middle east, I found that Afghanistan, a nation at war, has 13 per 100,000. Iraq has 6. As far as death by gun violence it is safer to be in Iraq than here.

I am not at all surprised. Years ago, I didn’t know anyone with a handgun though I knew many with hunting guns. I can’t even say I am shocked. That feeling has been watered down by exposure to news of gun violence and even by fiction media in which murder and violence are common feed. I have to  confess that Bernie and I watch several TV shows that are violent and far more explicit than in former years. I don’t wince as much as I used to. I continue to react with sorrow and pain when I see violence of any kind in the news, however. I guess I am still able to distinguish between reality and fiction though the link between the two doesn’t escape me.

Here is the reason I think we have more gun violence than other nations of the world – we have a gun lobby that uses every means possible to increase the sales of firearms which include pouring money into political campaigns and using all forms of media to lie to the American people. When faced with dire statistics about the deaths of children or the fact that guns continually get into the hands of known criminals, they deny the facts. I believe the gun industry’s tentacles go out further than our own borders. Over and over again it has been found that attacks in foreign countries, even against our own, are done with guns manufactured in the US.

All of this makes me angry, though thankfully the feeling doesn’t linger. Worse is the feeling I get when I realize that my grandchildren are at least 3 times as likely to die from gun violence than if we were living in another country. People talk about the rights of gun owners. I feel my own right has been taken away – the right to be safe.

I don’t know what to do with all of this. I drop a note to a legislator now and then and forward statistics on Facebook hoping they will change someone’s mind about hand guns. I wore orange on June 2. I am not afraid to go about my life because I am not really afraid to die. But the increasing danger to the lives of my grandchildren eats at me. If I could swoop them all up and transport them all to Canada, I would. My love for my country doesn’t hold a candle to my love for them.

Christmas Gifting

I am almost weepy this morning thinking about Christmas gifting. I read that the average per person spending anticipated this year for Christmas in the U.S. is $1227. Average amount parents spend per child is $271. AVERAGE? YIKES! I heard in one report, though I can’t find the numbers right now, the large percentage of people who spend more than they’d budgeted and who use credit cards, thus going into further dept, and (this amazed me) dip into their retirement savings.

WHAT THE HELL! People are being duped into thinking that this is love. This is the spirit of Christmas. This is duty. This is fun. But is it fun to face the truth when Christmas passes? The regret sounds to me like the morning after a drunk. “What the hell did I do last night? Where is my car? How did I get home? Who is this guy laying next to me?”

When our children were coming into the world, Bernie and I could barely pay the bills. We did, but only because of the lifestyle we lived. I had a budget for the kids for Christmas. The amount I don’t recall but I do know it was not enough to buy the popular toys of the time or larger things like new bikes. It was enough to buy what I considered one large gift (I am guessing $10) and some to put things in a stocking like fruit, stickers, pencils and an ornament. There was always a book and often home-made gifts.

Today our budget continues to be small. I am embarrassed to tell my friends how much I actually spend on our children and grandchildren. They would think me cheap. This is true. They might think that I don’t love my children and grandchildren or that I have no Christmas spirit or that I am failing to do my duties or that I don’t know how to have fun. None of this is true.

There is a light in all of this. Gifting is falling away. It is part of this aging thing that comes with living on a fixed income but also from having the wisdom to see what having too much as a child does to the adult they become. It is what happens when you live long enough to hear your children relate lovingly that Grandma Zapf used to send them $10 when they were in college with a note that said, “Use this to take your friends out for pizza.” I am discovering that love isn’t something you can hold in your hand no matter what the commercials say. As for Christmas spirit, I know that it is ridiculous to think spending money has anything to do with the babe born in a stable. I am old enough, too, to think duty is something we impose on our selves based on what our culture dictates to us. I still know how to have fun, but I have stopped pretending to have fun when I am not. And, God knows, the things that I find fun have changed.

I am okay with cheap. I know that Bernie and I can do things that we could not if we fell for the buy-spend philosophy.

I am going Christmas shopping today. I have ideas for five people on my list. The other 31 (all immediate family members) cause my brain board to go blank. Another aging thing.

Happy Birthday, Heidi

Today is the birthday of my youngest daughter, Heidi. She is turning 40!

I was telling her this  morning that I celebrated my 40th birthday by treating myself to a private retreat at a nearby retreat center. I felt it was a time to reflect on my life and to think about the future.  I don’t recall what my thoughts were about the future, but I believe they had something to do with taking care of my soul. I began around that time to read books that are designed to help one grow spiritually. I remember reading A Course in Miracles in my forties. I didn’t understand a word of it. I wasn’t ready. But it was like a light for me, not so much to guide me as to see at the end of a long tunnel.

I have read many spirituality books in the 30 plus years since then. I have gone on retreats and joined communities that focused growing on the inside where the spirit resides. Growing was an adventure even though there were many perils along the way. I have gathered around me friends who also want to grow and we commit to helping one another.

The decade of my 70’s is a far cry from my 40’s but I can say that the work I began back then has everything to do with the serenity and faith I have today.

Happy Birthday, youngest child. May your 40’s be years of increasing light.

Love, Mom

Glorious Morning

Getting off the topic of my trip to Israel this morning, I will just share what I wrote in my personal journal:

I woke at six this morning hearing the voices of Maddie and Emma (my granddaughters) in the kitchen. They had stopped but pick up Bernie’s trailer to take up north with them.

I walked out dopey, of course, but so pleased at the idea of eight hours of sleep. “How are you, Grandma,” Maddie said. “I am great,” I said. “I am finally over  post-traumatic-plane syndrome.”  The two girls giggled at me like they always do.

Bernie said, “Say something intelligent.”

“I just did,” I said. The girls laughed even harder. I don’t really mind being laughed at, not this morning, anyway.

After they left, I went out to greet the sun. God is here. I know God is here all the time but when I can see the sun and the air is comfortable and the wind is quiet and the birds are not…

Glorious. Glorious.