A Midsummer Reflection on Being an Elder

I just finished reading the new Parker Palmer book “On The Brink Of Everything”. Lots to think about. Transitions are a challenge! He wrote this as he reflected on eight decades of life, feeling gratitude for the gift that is life. In a section that speaks to the need to stay engaged in life, he reflects n becoming an elder. He laments the societal message that is sent that it is “time to withdraw from serious engagement” in such a rapidly changing world. To listen to this message is, as he writes , to rob folks of sources of “vitality, meaning and purpose”. Likewise, listening to this message of withdrawing from society “robs the world of the gifts elders have to offer” Palmer writes that when he is with elders whose world has “shrunk to the dimensions of their TV room–and who have no health problems to limit their mobility–it’s as if I’m with the walking dead. But when I am with elders who have a mind-and-heart connection with the world beyond their walls, I find their vitality contagious, even if they are confined to their homes.” (p.116)
As so many of us enter “elder-hood” (whatever that may mean) we will be faced with many challenges. Some of us have already begun to walk that path. Again, we are reminded that we have the power to choose how we walk this walk. Palmer is reminding us, as does Jewish tradition, that as long as we have life, we have the power to choose how we live. The challenges in those choices may be daunting, but we still have that power.
A while ago, at some conference or talk, someone, as we were discussing this thing called being an elder, send me the following poem/meditation on just this issue. It seems to have come from The Live Oak Project® in California. It was written by Debby and Barry Barkan. It is a nice mediation for us, especially as summer embraces us and our Jewish souls prepare to turn to the month of Elul and the coming of another New Year. Enjoy.

An Elder is a person
who is still growing
still a learner,
still with potential
and whose life continues to have
within it promise for, and
connection to the future.

An elder is still in pursuit of happiness, joy, and pleasure,
and her or his birthright to these
remains intact,

Moreover, and Elder is a person
who deserves respect and honor and
whose work it is to synthesize wisdom
from long life experience and to
formulate this into a legacy
for future generations.

Rabbi Richard F. Address


  1. I am not exactly in tune with the thoughts, premises, or ideas expressed. In my humble opinion, while these ideas do resonate with many elders……for one reason or another…too many elders do not and cannot feel these beautiful and lofty – very idealistic – views.
    Whether it is debiitating and painful ailments or illnesses, lack of funds, no familial support, lack of freedom, lack of transportation, living restrictions, poor balance – falling frequently, feeling like a burden and imposition (right or wrong) – the list is endless. So many suffering from depression….

    The many patients, clients, elders, residents I see in the various facilities, homes, hospitals have a totally different outlook….short on opportunities….they are anything but uplifted with being “elder”.

    Just my 2 cents worth!!!!!

    Laurie Dinerstein-Kurs

  2. In my work with elders, I treasure those who find that this stage in life has both challenges and opportunities. For those who have a spiritual dimension in their lives, this is exactly the sort of reading that uplifts and reminds that life is to be lived at all ages and stages. We will be reading Parker Palmer’s book “On the Brink of Everything” during the month of August as a prelude to the High Holidays at the senior community here in Mason, OH.

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