Stages of an Elder’s Life

One of the joys of life was discovering that the second half of life need not be a time of decline, impotency and disengagement. This was the blessing of elderhood. Once I decided to embrace this ancient archetype of the generative older person, I found hope.

I was initiated in 1996 at the age of 56 years. This meant to my brothers that I could qualify for the role of elder in the ManKind Project. As I deepened my understanding of elderhood I was surprised to discover that my expression of this role changed with age.

In my fifties I was recovering from a mid-life transition. In this crisis I changed my way of being at work and developed a spiritual hunger. The hunger for a connection to God and man interfered in the way I saw myself in the work world. I was an entrepreneur and with this came power, money and influence over others. My spiritual journey, however, called me to let go, to be less enamored with things of this world and a need to connect with others rather than tell them what to do.

In Marc Freedman’s book, Prime Time, the writer introduces us to “older adults who are making the most of the last third of their lives: as volunteers teaching children; as part-time medical staff serving low income families; as vital members of their communities.” What he found and what I experience among my friends and family is an inclination to work in a different way in the second half of life….a generative way. I was able to retire but even those who must continue to work into their fifties and sixties want to soften their manner in the work world, bless their coworkers with patience and compassion and provide service while at the same time earn an income.

Eric Erikson asserted that at this time of life we commonly struggle with the two poles of integrity and despair. MKP men know the importance of being in integrity. This emphasis helped prepare me for elderhood. Because I was growing older, despair over mortality was increasingly possible. With my mortal self being in decline, I feared impotency. Older women tell me that the way they experience this is becoming invisible. Americans are enthralled with beauty and potency. As a woman ages she is written off as less attractive. As an older man ages he is seen as less important.

To be in integrity means to be whole, harmonious and undiminished. Elderhood calls me to in part to the King’s quartile. The King celebrates the oneness of all he sees. He is joyful with the harmony of men holding one another respectfully. The King is undiminished because he is confident that he remains beautiful and wholesome despite being mortal.

Then came my sixties and I found myself celebrating. I had a choice between celebration and complaining, between celebration and demands for change. I wanted to be a source of positive energy for my family, my friends and my community. I decided that the demands for change were coming from the young and I need not be an activist. I wanted to pass the mantle to my children because they were taking over leadership in the world, they were in the work world, and they were building the infrastructure like I was at their age. As elder I wanted to hold them not join them in their battles. I was interested in rest.

Now has come my seventies. I am pulling back more. I am more contemplative. I want to both remain accessible to those whom I can serve and be left alone to focus on my center, myself. I am on a cusp and it sometimes is upsetting. Some still want me in leadership, want me to set a design for living for them, make major life decisions. I am convinced, however, that there is a large difference between and elder and a leader.
In the Far East, I am told, the older man is expected to lose interest in temporal affairs and shift toward a more spiritual focus. Some primitive cultures perceive the passing of leadership to younger people as the peak of the life cycle.

As elder I am gradually letting go of the need for control, coordination and command. Passing on the power is, in my view, an expression of the wise older person’s increasing hunger for connection and simplification of their life. I want to stir the heart of community while assisting the young in their drive to make the community productive. As elder I know I am not a leader any longer. The leaders are the young whom I have raised.

So my elder journey continues. The eighty year old people I know tell me they get occupied with things of the body. There is simply too much going wrong with the body to ignore it. I have reached out to some of the men in MKP who are older than eighty and have found them mostly unresponsive. They appear to have disengaged and they have every right to do that.

At this point I both fear being disengaged and am very curious about its potential.

Terry Jones “eagle”