We live in a society with elderly people, but very few elders. That’s not because they’re bad people, but there haven’t been guides from the first half to the second half of life, so most of us stay innocently in the first half. True second half of life people are wonderful mirrors. They no longer need to be mirrored themselves so they can do it for others (2 Corinthians 3:18). They are not crying, “Notice me! I’m important.” Real elders are masters at granting their attention and awareness to other people. They are now the mirrors, and the truthful mirrors when hard truth needs be told (James 1:23-25), but also gentle mirrors that can affirm and praise and not distort the moment, but enjoy it for exactly what it offers.
The great elders I’ve met in my life reveal both a brightness and a sadness at the same time. They’re bright, they’re here, they’re clear, their eyes are open, they’re present. They mirror you, rather than asking you to mirror them. It’s like they’re listening and seeing at a deeper level.
They usually don’t talk much. They need very few words to make their point. Too many words (the use of which I am surely guilty) are not needed by true elders. The “second simplicity” that we are moving toward has its own kind of brightness and clarity, but much of it is expressed in nonverbal terms, and only when really needed. They just keep taking it all in, rather than giving a knee-jerk response or joke or clever comeback intended to entertain or impress everybody.
Elders have a wider, long distance lens. They are patient with first half of life folks who are still ego-driven, because they know they were there once, too. Healthy cultures have been guided by such wise seniors (“senators”) who naturally live a generative existence in service of the common good. They “live simply so that others can simply live,” as Gandhi said.
Adapted from Loving the Two Halves of Life: The Further Journey, disc 5,
(CD, MP3 download); and Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,