I wouldn’t have believed this if I hadn’t been there. Maybe you won’t either.
For me it took an experience, maybe it will for you too. But, I think that my experience is so rare, that I want to convey it to you, in hope that it will touch something in you, as it did in me.
I’ve spent a great deal of my life struggling with myself to just be myself. What I have observed in my self, was that I had a tendency to make myself into whatever form I thought I needed to be, to earn love, respect, and caring from important others. In other words, in order to be loved I betrayed myself. I got really good at it. I could fool others, even sometimes fool myself, but could never get beyond the feeling that I was only too willing to sell myself out.
I knew the pain associated with being untrue to myself. I felt lost in a world that could not, would not, make a space for one like me. It is too simple to just say I was alienated, although I did sometimes feel like an alien, the truth was, that I couldn’t find a place, because I didn’t trust my self enough to take a lasting form, one that anybody could relate too. I was a blob, a changeling, restlessly trying to be something, anything, but myself.
There is a huge pain, and deep disappointment, in realizing you want someone else to love you, because you cannot love yourself. Coming to such a place, feeling so far from oneself, being so emptily alone is really disturbing. It is also liberating. The stroke forced me to do what I always was loathe to do, look at myself. It made me grasp, rather desperately at first, that I had one more chance to learn to love, and that I had to start with me.
I have spent much of my life being a freedom fighter. I have always sought, and advocated for causes, that increased freedom. This was part of my values, and part of the way I convinced myself that I was on-track when I wasn’t. In all that time I never took on the greatest tyrant, the chief restrictor of my freedom, the treacherous ambassador determining my relationships, myself. The stroke put me in a locked room with him. Learning to love a tyrant is no easy matter (maybe especially if its you).
That last sentence is the story of my recent life. So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I came to realize that the struggle to love myself was one of the greatest gifts I have to give. It was in the elder’s circle that the light came on. We had just completed going around the circle stating our names and sharing one thing that we liked about being elders. I had been paying attention because instead of the usual aches and pains of getting older the group was talking about what aging had given them. It turned out to be a lot, so much that freedom and richness filled the air, and filled me.
I was touched, as I had been before, by how much hardship had grown the people present. I was impressed by how unique, idiosyncratic, and self-possessed this same group of people was. Suddenly it dawned in me that having survived the years, undergone real hardships, and struggling to fight the good fight, and stay true to themselves, these people had been initiated, they were not just a group of old folks, they were elders.
In that moment several things rushed into my awareness. Eldering wasn’t just about getting old, it was about being ripened, initiated really, by life. Eldering also meant that these souls, through hardship, loss, love, diminishment, and struggle had become themselves, not completely, but just enough to make a real difference. They were the most subversive beings imaginable, the antidotes to a world gone materialistically mad, different in the only way that matters, free to be themselves.
Doubly surprising is the realization that the life-long work of becoming oneself can come to fruition, and can mean so much, not only for the self that has been struggling for freedom, but for the world that needs models, that needs to know that being different is possible. Out beyond rules, roles, and shape-shifting for love, there is a way to actualize our existence, to give Life its due, to become free, to become what Life intended.
When I realized what eldering was I sensed the possibility of happiness. I saw, for the first time, that the freedom fight, the struggle to be myself, is synonymous with the pursuit of happiness. I will write more about happiness later, but for now I just want to bask in the glow that arises as I see that loving the tyrant, loving me, makes me one with, aligned with Life. And, that is what eldering is.