Our Truest Self: the Inner Elder

I am pained as I write this. My hands shake just enough on the keys to add an audible unpredictability to each click of a character.

One of the two communities where I feel most at home is in turmoil, with many long-term members flocking to join their voices with a small core who have self-exiled as an act of resistance. While I absolutely support them in leaving a space in which they no longer felt safe or heard, I am heartbroken at the way in which it was done, and at the fallout that has ensued.

Over the past four years I’ve enjoyed deepening friendships with individuals who are now on opposing sides, and know them well enough to feel confident saying that they are good people. Neither in their heart of hearts means to harm. Each has tried with real diligence to work through difficulty, think collaboratively, and empower others. They have in fact based their entire lives on these principles. Until now, I have been continually impressed with their desire to move past what is comfortable or easy, and truly challenge themselves to find solutions that consider all people and their needs.

Of course, each of my close friends is, as I too am, fallible. We have made mistakes. Said things in anger. Lashed out from a place of pain, whether in private or fully in the public eye. It remains to be seen whether or not the damage will be permanent. But I believe we have some choice in the matter.

Let’s turn the lens on ourselves. Think of the elders you trust and respect, those who hold a wisdom that causes you to be still for a moment, humbled and grateful to be in their presence. Why do you hold them so dear? What qualities do you see shining past wrinkled flesh and kind eyes? What of your elders do you quietly hope to grow into one day? I can tell you now it is not their anger. It is not their pain, worn as a badge.

We look to elders for a reason. They have lived through far more than we can imagine, and have been hurt, shamed, and loved to a degree that is beyond our current comprehension. And yet they have a quiet, boundless strength. A depth born of hard-won perspective.

So my question to you is this: 20 or 30 years from now (or let’s say 40, to allow extra time for real wisdom to show its face), how will you look back on your words and actions from this era? Will it still be with righteous conviction? Or will there perhaps be something softer, such as a deep sadness, mixed with a compassion that knows no boundary between self and other? As an elder reflecting on these, your younger years, will you feel any regret?

We are at a fork in the road, versions of which we will no doubt encounter at crucial junctures throughout our lives. Do we choose to take a step toward the elder inside us, the truest self? Or do we turn away from the wisdom that is already there?

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