Reflections on Elderhood

by Reverend Sangye Hawke

Dear Ones,

Let’s talk about the word Elder.

Yeah, I know, it’s a loaded English word, and we have our culture-specific terms of reverence for being an adult in the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and yes 9th decade as well. I prefer to transfer my understanding to this word as one that means we’ve arrived, we have life knowledge, and we have survived. E ma HO!

We are the Baby Boomer Generation. Some of us are Gen X-ers. The changes we have felt and witnessed are both horrific and enlightening. Sometimes both at once. If you have comforted or shared the feelings and memories identified as “historic” but in reality, rough times, then yes, you are an Elder.

Whoa! Wait a minute! When did that happen? I mean, we were the young, the trendsetters, the noisemakers, the rebels with causes. We were fearless.

And yet, recently, we’ve all felt the invisibility, the minimization, the anger, at not being welcomed into leading the newer, better, programs, classes, events, or even talks about this time of change and innovation.

We are not offered the singular recognition or given positions we became accustomed to receiving or finding in our younger times.

We don’t like to remember that we were also part of a movement that minimized and degraded the elderly, hyper-evangelized individualism (the 90s folks- the “me” generation) and those of us parenting were supposed to produce perfection.

We drank in the poison of division amongst our identities, especially ones driven by age, and we lived into the anger of exploiting/blaming ourselves when we lost our hard-earned benefits, be they status or place. [We craved both, too] In short, we lived and breathed, well there is no easy way to say this, colonization.


Now, we begin to see the next Gen, appropriately named Z, done with this way of thinking. They know that fighting among ourselves, using labels like ageism or identity as separators rather than engagers, is active colonizing behavior.

They reject it with good reason because it is time to move on and on means forward. They have confidence in the process of change.

And wow, are we envious!!! It can make us angry too. Why is that? Because we didn’t act quite that way at the same age. We had other concerns. We hate being reminded that yes, then, Life was different. And we learned to hide our suffering.

Unlike us, the next Gen embraces our Elder need for emotional and physical care. They tirelessly soothe our ruffled feathers at perceived imperfections and offer apologies for our hypercritical observations.

They embrace the energy of change, thrive in the challenges of uncomfortable conversations, and embody this discomfort as transformation. We envy that so much because we see they feel a sense of belonging. And let’s face it, a lot of us still don’t feel part of much these days.

Today is different. Even in the time it takes to read this article, life has changed. The world is flexing and shifting faster than many of us can process. All we want to do is make it work, somehow, even if that means breaking ourselves. That, too, is colonization.

So, my beloved companion Elders, let’s decolonize ourselves.

  • Let’s stop being divisive among each other by accusing other beloveds of engaging in -isms. Reflect on our own -isms and our own pain and begin the process of healing.
  • Let’s stop exploiting weaknesses in ourselves and others such as taking on too many committees or trying to be “there” for everyone because it looks good or gives us a way to fulfill our own needs.
  • Engage in more self-care. In fact, find out what that really means and how to not feel bad about engaging in taking care of ourselves, DEEPLY!
  • Make room for participation that is not yours.
  • We take the air out of the room and demand attention. So just STOP. Listen to feedback, even if it’s painful for and about us.
  • Be quiet, unless asked to venture, and then be clear, not critical, angry, or impatient.

Finally, embody the Elder, the person who completes the council circle. Be the one who holds the knowledge of the ”before times”. We have lived through massive shift, learned in diverse multiplatform ways, loved radically, and reflected fearfully on our own futures. Now is the time to create and nurture the wisdom of this legacy and the space we inhabit in our path forward.

We are our parents’ stories, our grandparents’ legends, and the creators of our own narrative.

Our narrative joins the legacy of this work. We are the living part of history, those who remember. That is what it means to be the calm, non-anxious presence. This is how Elders create space for the future, the most precious role of all. We are The Living Tradition.

Come be with me, Elders. E ma HO* (Tibetan for Amen, Wow, Awesomeness-no direct English translation).


Rev. Sangye Hawke, DRUUMM Chaplains Team | [email protected]