“Grandmothers and grandfathers dragged themselves to him with their toothless mouths, with their eyes that seemed not to see but saw all that is deep in our hearts. They had been walking the four paths of the earth for a long time–the red path, the white path, the yellow path, and the black path–the four magical paths of wisdom. That’s why they couldn’t see things far off, but only those close up, with great depth.” – – from Rigoberta Menchú’s account of a Maya myth about elders.
These days I find myself craving age. Age without pretense or disguise–just crusty, dragging, aged people who see more deeply than anyone with a microphone or a corner office or a blog. I crave elders who may not be strong enough for a flight of stairs but can support an entire community with their backbone of experience. People who have long grown away from worldly titles or degrees or fashion but who have been acquainted with hearts and souls long enough to speak plainly to both. Whose health is unattached to a trend, whose beauty surpasses the new formula. I crave their anchoring, example, and calm. I am noticing their absence.
One of the great disservices of our internet and technology-dependent society is that it has become even easier to live without contact with the Deep-seers. We’ve poured everything in a development race that generally excludes certain populations, our grandparents being one. Facebook seems real but is only a keyhole view. In the plugged-in world, we rarely interact or have to make room for someone who has seen their name pass down two, three, or four generations. That is really strange. Millions of threads and forums feed our interests and concerns online, most responders probably being people in our same peer group, and we don’t have to ask our mothers, our grandmothers, and we have an answer but something is lost. I am missing that something; I am feeling the gap. I am missing the company of the people who have walked those paths because seeing things far off gets exhausting and it is tiring to always study the horizon.
One of the people I have had the privilege of watching age was my Grandma Jean. She did not fight time. I was fortunate to be around in her last days on earth and introduce my firstborn to her the Christmas before. Growing up, I didn’t live next door to her but many holidays and camping trips were spent in her company. High school overseas and college a thousand miles away meant less contact with her and Grandpa in my adolescent/pretend-adult years. But they were there. In the same house, with the same traditions, same stories, relics, marriage, jam, smell, and love as the day I joined the family. She knew she was facing death when she received her final diagnosis and handled the process with grace and care for others, just as she handled life. She left us with so much though I did not stay in touch with her over the miles well. I did not ask to look through her eyes enough while I could.
Youthfulness is idolized and fast-paced, mobile, unsettled lifestyles are envied. But quietly, knowingly, some bow out of the frenzy, or the frenzy whizzes past them, and it is they, people like my grandparents, who help ground us and who we would go–should go– running to for balance, safety and some sort of orientation in time. They are a control, a fixed point, a key to tune to. My generation and younger have had very little sameness. Along with a $5 check on my birthday each year, Grandma gave me that. Without me realizing it, she, and other elders in my tribe so to speak, gave me footing. After she died, though my daily life was no different, it felt a little like trying to settle into a wobbly chair. You’re not falling, but it just isn’t level.
I am better at listening to old stories than I used to be, which is to say I am not very good but I know it now. I am working on slowing down my pace so I can notice if the abuela next door is sitting on the porch. I am trying to care for people nearest me so that they can grow old without burning out and feeling like they must escape here to retire–so that the average age of my coworkers actually grows with time. I am wondering what it would take for us to last a long, long time in ministry. I am hoping that I will learn to be a deep-seer from Deep-seers. I am writing Grandpa letters. I really want to hear from the oldest people in our church. These are the only things I know to do in this vacuum of age. Tiny invitations. Baby ideas. Because that is what I am.