In his landmark provocative style, Stephen Jenkinson makes the case that we must birth a new generation of elders, one poised and willing to be true stewards of the planet and its species.
Come of Age does not offer tips on how to be a better senior citizen or how to be kinder to our elders. Rather, with lyrical prose and incisive insight, Stephen Jenkinson explores the great paradox of elderhood in North America: how we are awash in the aged and yet somehow lacking in wisdom; how we relegate senior citizens to the corner of the house while simultaneously heralding them as sage elders simply by virtue of their age. Our own unreconciled relationship with what it means to be an elder has yielded a culture nearly bereft of them. Meanwhile, the planet boils, and the younger generation boils with anger over being left an environment and sociopolitical landscape deeply scarred and broken.
Taking on the sacred cow of the family, Jenkinson argues that elderhood is a function rather than an identity–it is not a position earned simply by the number of years on the planet or the title “parent” or “grandparent.” As with his seminal book Die Wise, Jenkinson interweaves rich personal stories with iconoclastic observations that will leave readers radically rethinking their concept of what it takes to be an elder and the risks of doing otherwise. Part critique, part call to action, Come of Age is a love song inviting all of us to grow up, before it’s too late.
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Excerpt from the Overture of Come Of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble
“It used to be that age was held in some esteem, considerable esteem even, as the concentration of life experience. Life experience and its many lessons were once the fundament of personal and cultural wisdom. It stands to reason, then, that with this many old people around we should be awash in the authentic, time-tested, grey wisdom that should emanate from them. And there should be cultural initiatives that expose the general population to this wisdom. And this should deepen this culture’s sanity and capacity for sustainable decision making. And that should make us all ancestors worth claiming by a future time, now that we’ve come to our elder-prompted senses and begun to proceed as if unborn future generations deserve to drink the distillate of our wisdom and our sustainable example. At the very least, the distillate of aged wisdom should balance the burden and the books, and old people should have worth as they once might have done, and the culture should break even on the deal. You’d think that this is an inevitable result of an aging population in a civilized place. We should be smarter, deeper, wiser. Especially wiser.
Well, here’s what is becoming glaringly obvious: there is nothing inherently ennobling about aging. Nothing. There’s no sign that anything lends old people steadiness or wisdom or magic from on high or from down below, just because they get old. If we don’t train young people and middle aged people in elder hood we will have no elderhood. There is no such training.
It isn’t any longer a matter of inviting elders, those of them left, back into the fold. They aren’t out there , waiting on our invitation. They aren’t out there. Elders are a sentinel species for humanness, and like other forms of life in our corner of the world they’ve mysteriously gone missing. Young people are, often involuntarily, looking for them, and they can’t find them. How about this: old people are looking for them too. The retreat centres attest to it. If you’re looking for signs of the end times, that alone might do.
I am making the case for elderhood, not for easy agedness. I’m doing so mostly by wondering what happened. Because something happened. Something happened to ancestors and elders and honour. There’s work to be done, and there’s an old wisdom to be learned where there used to be the wisdom of old, and you can’t fix what you don’t understand. That’s where we’re headed: to grievous wisdom. Let us see if we can bear the sound, the particular sound, of no hand clapping.
This is a plea and a plot for elders in training.”
Publisher: North Atlantic Books
Page Count: 400
Size: 6″ x 9″