Stephen Jenkinson’s book Die Wise changed my life. I felt nervous at the beginning of this interview because I admire him a lot. For years, he led the palliative care department at a major Canadian hospital. Sitting at the deathbeds of more than 1,000 people, he discovered again and again “a wretched anxiety” around death.
He understands this death phobia as a symptom of a larger cultural absence, including the loss of elders. In 2010 Stephen and his wife Nathalie opened the Orphan Wisdom School, a learning house for “elders-in-training”.
At 26 minutes tells me about a disturbing moment at an event he attended as a panellist that was intended to reconsider and revivify masculinity. Attendees demanded to know “who will superintend the elders?” and one said, “I bring infants into the world as a midwife and they are my elders.” This story stuck with me. I think it captures how desperate the situation is: even among those interested enough in our collective wellbeing to pay to attend an event like that, we see this rejection of the notion of eldership because it feels too threatening, and a move instead to a kind of parent-child conflict or a “wisdom sweepstakes”, as Stephen puts it.
I hope you enjoy our conversation. Stephen’s repertoire as a culture worker and a master storyteller includes live music with veteran Canadian musician Gregory Hoskins. Their band tours England in 2023:
August 8th – London, A Night of Grief & Mystery
August 10th – Penzance, A Night of Grief & Mystery
August 11 – Sanity & Soul: day long talk in Cornwall