Letters to a young elder

During April and May, we will talk a lot about “aging” at Vine Street. No, not the kind of aging we like in our cheese, steak, wine, or scotch – our own getting older and the aging of our parents. We will have a series of programs on baby boomers and medicare and how to live independently as long as possible – a whole host of conversations about important issues we call aging:360.

While I was meeting with the group that is putting it all together, I thought about what I would like to do as part of this 360 project. The landscape of aging is so vast and universal, and at the same time it is so very personal. What else might we do, other than sharing important information? How about some wisdom?

Joan Chittister, a very wise woman and one of the most gifted writers on spiritual matters of our time, published a series of brief meditations when she was just over 70 years old. The title of her book is, THE GIFT OF YEARS: Growing Older Gracefully.

Each of the forty short meditations with titles like, DREAMS, TALE-TELLING, REGRET, AGELESSNESS, and PRODUCTIVITY, begins with a quote. “Old age transfigures or fossilizes.” So true, isn’t it? Another one I liked because it reminded me of some of my favorite old people, “How beautiful the leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.” When I sat with this one, “For the unlearned, old age is winter; for the learned, it is the season of harvest,” I just wondered what I might need to learn before the time of harvest begins.

In Chittister’s book, the quote in each chapter is followed by a meditation of about four pages, and the chapter ends with two pithy statements like these, “A burden of these years is to assume that the future is already over. A blessing of these years is to give another whole meaning to what it is to be alive, to be ourselves, to be full of life. Our own life.”

This is not a book for study, but rather one that invites deep reflection and response. I would like to read this book with a group of folks over 50. For eight weeks, starting sometime in April, we each read one chapter every day, five chapters per week. At least once a week, we write in response to what we have read. We may respond to just one particular thought, or to one or more of the chapters, or to the whole experience of reading, and we give our response the form of a letter.

At first I thought it would be fun to write this letter to a child or a grandchild, to a niece, or to the kid across the street. But then I started to think about bringing the reflection closer to the community where we live, work, and worship with several generations, closer to Vine Street. That’s when “letters to a young elder” crossed my mind like a bird you suddenly notice and then you can’t take your eyes off of it.

I like the idea that is beginning to take shape: Each week, we get together to listen to each other’s letters. We might read our own or ask someone in the group to read it for us. We may decide to talk some more. We may decide to collect the letters and give them to our folks under 50. We may decide to invite them to dinner and an evening of homemade wisdom. This is something I’d really like to do. How about you?

If this sounds like something you'd like to give some of your time to, call me or send me an email, let's say by April 10, and then we talk some more about how we'll make this happen.