Nancy Vermond is an active volunteer and storyteller who lives in St. Marys.
In the fall a group of elders, retired active growing “seniors”, began meeting at the library to ask ourselves “What is the meaning or purpose of this stage of our lives?” We recognized that in our extremely youth-oriented culture, people in their 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s are seemingly superfluous. People who have grandchildren living nearby often have a strong sense of purpose by being actively involved with them, but this is not always the case. As Canadian author Doris Marshall pointed out in her book Silver Threads: critical reflections on growing old, it was only since the mid-twentieth century that those over 65 were labeled “seniors’ and set apart from the rest of society, and that aging began to be defined as a problem. Marshall observed that those who planned programs for seniors focused on questions like “What do seniors need?” (e.g.economic security, appropriate housing, health care, planned activities and entertainment, etc.) and “Who is going to pay for it?” but rarely “What do seniors have to give to their communities?”
In more traditional cultures, the elders were the teachers, judges, counselors, storytellers, i.e. valued sources of wisdom and humour to be shared with younger members of the village or tribe. There were often three or four generations living “under one roof”. A woman from India once asked a North American, “If the grandparents do not live in your home, where do the children get their stories?” Another story tells of a Westerner who took satellite TV to an African village. At first the young people were fascinated by the images and sound, but one by one, they returned to the circle around their wise old storyteller. They explained, “The TV knows many stories, but the storyteller knows us.”
In our April Elder Circle gathering at the library, we asked ourselves the questions of what we see is missing or needed in our community and what gifts do we have to offer? One of our reflections was the need for a stronger connection between the generations. In a time of retirement housing and nursing homes, the exchange between older and younger people is mostly factored out. How do we begin to create opportunities for more connection among generations? And what gifts do the generations bring to each other? For starters, children bring life, joy and enthusiasm, and we older folks have a lifetime of experience, a longer view, a wealth of stories, and time for just being together. (In the new My Life in a Page project, some seniors/elders are passing on stories from their lives to high school students, who are writing and typing the stories to be preserved in the library. To learn more about this project, you can contact me.)
And, speaking of gifts, on Tuesday morning, May 24, St. Marys elder Marilyn Haywood will be giving a talk on “Core Gifts” to the Elder Circle upstairs at the St. Marys library from 10:45 until noon. This special presentation is free and open to the public. Marilyn will share the understanding that each of us comes into the world with a core gift to contribute. It is important to identify this core gift in order to offer it to others with love and confidence. I, for one, would like to be clear about my own core gift so that, with limited years left, I will not waste my time and energy trying to give someone else’s core gift! When we honour and offer our unique gifts and honour and receive other people’s gifts, we begin to create a rich and affirming wholeness in our community. You are welcome to join us at this event.
Blessings to all, Nancy Vermond. (519-284-2698 or firstname.lastname@example.org)