Many people dislike the name, elder. I never had a reaction to it because I never really thought of myself in those terms. But a recent spontaneous and heart-warming exchange made me realize I unintentionally assumed the role for at least one young person.
I was seated next to him, this man, in his late 20’s, who I’ve known his entire life. He’s part of my extended family and he spent considerable time at my home growing up.
As we settled in at a long table for a family celebration, he placed his napkin on this lap, turned to me and said,
“You know, Fran, I was thinking the other night as I spread my napkin while out on a dinner date, that my parents never made me do that growing up. It wasn’t important in our house. But spending time at your table I watched you and learn some very important etiquette. Thank you for that.”
I was so touched, I teared up a little. I never intentionally taught him anything, I was just doing what I do, but he was watching. And what he learned must have made an impression and served him well. That pleases me.
I’ve thought about his words many times since and have come to understand that being an elder is an honor. It offers us the opportunity to impart knowledge, to encourage and offer help to those who are watching and eager to learn. We can help in so many subtle but impactful ways, if we are present and willing.
After some serious introspection, I’ve decided there are a few key elements to being a good elder I intend to follow from now on to ensure I am the best elder I can be.
Always Be Kind
I will share what I know in a gentle way, teaching without ever criticizing
Show, Don’t Tell
I will be an example, always remembering young people may be watching and learning by how I behave.
Offer Support When It Matters
Being young and inexperienced is challenging, mistakes happen. My gentle hand is strong enough to guide someone back onto the right path.
Listen to Understand
I will suspend judgement and do my best to put myself in their place.
It’s Their Journey – Not Mine
There will be times when I can foresee the hardship heading their way, and warning them is appropriate, but I will remember it’s their life to live as they choose.
I’ve decided I quite like the role of elder and feel some obligation in return for the fruitful and fulfilling life I’ve lived to offer what I can to those who may benefit.
Aging is inevitable, but aging with purpose makes it worthwhile. So, I’ve decided, elder, will be one of the roles I will mindfully embrace.