I turned 70 this year. I’m pondering what this means. At 55 and 60, various senior discounts kicked in and it seemed kind of fun. At 65, there is no doubt that one officially becomes a senior with Old Age Security, Pharmacare, Homeowners and Pioneer Utility grants. But what about 70? A compulsory Driver’s Medical? Is that all?
I think that becoming 70 deserves a special term of its own. Am I now an elder, a sage, a crone, or just an old woman?
According to the dictionary, a “sage” is a person who has attained wisdom. Traditionally a “crone” was a disagreeable, sinister, witch-like old woman, but also an archetypal figure of a wise woman. An “elder,” according to the dictionary, is an older person valued for their wisdom and experience. In First Nations cultures, the term refers to a person who is recognized because they have earned the respect of their community through wisdom, harmony and balance of their actions and their teachings. They are asked to teach others about culture, tradition, and “being a human being” based upon their life experiences. An elder is also wise enough to listen to the youth and learn from them. They are our future.
I want to be known as an “elder.” I want to pass on some of the wisdom I have gained from my life experiences and reflections. One of the most important things I have witnessed is the effect of the increasing population on our planet. Along with this is the effect of the increasing affluence in the world (not for everyone of course) on all the natural systems of this earth. And, of course, the biggest of all these is climate change.
I live with the guilt of having had “it all.” I’ve always had enough of everything, especially options. Options in terms of where I live, what education I choose, what I eat, where I vacation, whether I drive a car or ride a bike, how many children I have, what work I do, and so on. I also had the opportunity to live and work in rural Bangladesh and Nepal, and to know people who had few or no options in any of these areas. For now, many of us in the Yukon continue to have these options, but the people I knew in Bangladesh, for example, have fewer and fewer options as a large part of their country is becoming no longer habitable with the rising sea levels. Climate change!
What wisdom can I share as an “elder” in my culture with those growing up with climate change and making the decisions about the world? I don’t know if I can actually make a difference, but I can be faithful to some of my ideals and values. I want to pass on a respect for the natural world that affirms doing no more damage to our fragile ecosystems. I want to minimize my use of those resources that are not renewable and will not last even for the life of my granddaughter, let alone for the generations after her.
On a personal level, I try to teach my children and grandchild by example how to enjoy simple activities in the outdoors. We go for walks, hikes, bike rides and paddles, and talk about the plants and animals that we see. We, in the Yukon, are privileged to have so many of these activities right outside our doors. I try to live “locally” as much as possible, and grow some of my own food. My husband and I have replaced our lawn with raised beds to grow vegetables. We are transitioning to a mostly plant-based diet, both for health and to go easier on the planet. My generation has spread its families across the country and the globe. Air travel is a huge producer of greenhouse gases, so we have decided that our air travel miles will be only “medical miles” or “love miles” (to maintain important family relationships). We are trying to use electronic means to stay in touch with distant folks, whether it is for meetings or personal chats. Skype and other video calls work well. Taking the bus as often as possible reduces my use of the car.
These are some examples of what I, personally, am trying to do to pass on the lessons I have learned and am still learning.
Collectively, we “elders” need to use our influence to demand that our leaders act on the major climate change-related issues. This is difficult for them. Some of the measures needed are unpopular and contested by the industries and people whose livelihoods come from the activities that are most involved in causing climate change. These people need to be aided to make the difficult transitions that will be necessary to adapt and mitigate. We have all learned to live with a short-term view and now we see that we must take the long view.
At age 70, in a culture focussed on individual fulfillment, I recognize that, in the long-term, sharing and cooperation is better than circling the wagons. Making hard changes is not only an individual action. It takes a community of support. I want to be part of that.