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.

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5 Responses to My “Elder” Brother

  1. Nancy Zapf Seidler says:

    Wow good thoughts today.one good thing about my childhood was that my Dad taught the girls the things he was teaching the boys. I learned all kinds of construction traits. My brothers also are good contractors! Dave was in corporate world a long time but now is doing well in his own construction business. Not sure he passed that down to his kids. I do know that mine, all of them learned to cook and clean. Steve is an accomplished Chef. So my point is that I agree with you and your friends opinions about this respect and learning male and female skills. I know your son Chris teaches his kids great skills, they are all so talented. We should have more parents like him and Wendy.
    I want to comment about Chuck so will send you a personal message. Missing the cousin days!

  2. Abdi says:

    Happy birthday, our great friend…I enjoy reading your articles.
    In our Somali culture, we respect our elders so much. We consider them sagacious even if they’ve never been to school before. They are the carriers of our folk tradition and faith. They often mediate conflicting families. During mealtime, male elders should be served first. Families consult with elders about naming, religious services, marriage rituals, funeral services and many other rites. In America, these elders shun and ostracize Somalis who leave their faith, marry non-Somalis and those who choose to assimilate into the American way of life. I believe so many young generation in America doesn’t want to listen to their elders like they did before because they consider them ignorant and backward. That’s why we have a HUGE generation gap today. Our young kids who were born or raised in America don’t believe Somali elders have the slightest knowledge needed in this modern world to pass on to them. Surprisingly, kids answer the phone, read mail to their elders, take them to hospital, and help them explain their medication. This is a role reversed.
    What pisses me off is we don’t consider a woman an elder because we were born into a male-controlled / dominated society where an older man is respected and venerated like a saint. I observed the roles of older men and women in our culture. Men share their wisdom with their male grandkids while women teach their young granddaughters how to knit, crochet, cook, clean, and raise kids. This kind of old school mentality that our women are nothing but nurturers and caregivers while men are hunters, sportsmen OUGHT to be eliminated.

    • Judy says:

      Thanks for sharing, Abdi. Maybe the reason children here in America don’t honor their elders is that there is a lack of knowledge between what Moore calls direct and indirect learning. What elders pass on is so much deeper than how to use a cell phone. They have learned how to live in a difficult world. They have knowledge about relationships…which often makes them better at picking partners for young people than the young people can do for themselves. They have learned perspective, what is important and what is not important. In other words, they have Wisdom which young people lack due to lack of life experience. Our Native people get this. I have visited their retirement centers and noticed how the Elders are treated at Pow-wows. This is a very special kind of respect that goes way beyond technical know-how.
      Good points about the women. Go, Abdi!

  3. Cathy says:

    Thanks, Judy! I appreciate your thoughts here.

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