Youngers to Elders: Please Help!


Designer Marlow Hotchkiss atop the Heron Council Hut at Three Creeks.I am in a group of 70 people gathered at Three Creeks, a ranch in Big Pine, California, located in the Owens Valley between the White Mountains overlooking Death Valley to the east and the towering Sierra Nevadas to the west. The valley, once verdant with orchards fed with glacial runoff, is now parched and mostly barren, its water diverted through culverts to Los Angeles. Three Creeks is the rare oasis in this dry place. We have traveled here from across the country and around the world, all of us involved in teaching or supporting wilderness rites of passage and the Council Process. We range in age from 21 to 84, with most of the group in their early 30s to mid-60s. Three Creeks is the home of Gigi Coyle and Win Phelps, friends I’ve known for 30 years who’ve called us here to consider the questions: “What’s going on in your life?” “What are the challenges you see?” And, “What’s calling you?”

Gigi is one of the most tuned-in and intuitively gifted people I know. She is a past co-director of the Ojai Foundation and long-time trainer with the School of Lost Borders. When Gigi calls, I come. We’ve been working with the four directions during our retreat. Yesterday, when we were in the West, the direction of darkness, dreams, and decay, we heard four impeccably researched and movingly delivered presentations on the state of our world, focusing on water, waste, women and war. Afterwards I felt devastated. When each person had a chance to speak, I heard myself say, “I feel hopeless.”

Today our group of 70 is completing our retreat, working with the East, the direction of vision, spirit and renewal. We are standing in two concentric circles inside the Heron Hut, a spiral-shaped meditation and council chamber. Those in the inner circle are standing on the smooth earthen floor, and those of us in the outer circle are standing atop the built-in adobe bench that rings the interior space. In a few words, each of us offers a prayer, or declares his or her intentions for the future. The last person to speak, at 21, is the youngest in the group by nearly ten years. She appears reluctant to step into the circle. When she does she moves silently to the center, sits down before the open fire and plays with it, burning twigs and dry grass in the flames, then flicking drops of water from a nearby bowl onto the coals, creating the occasional hiss and pop.

After about five minutes she gets up and begins circling the fire, surrounded by the tired but transfixed assemblage. I find myself worrying about the 80-somethings— the group has been standing for well over an hour. Finally the young woman speaks, “I need your help. I don’t know what to do with what’s coming toward us. I need you who are older to be elders. I need your wisdom and guidance. Please help.”

On the plane home from the Three Creeks gathering, the young woman’s words come back to me. “I need you who are older to be elders. I need your wisdom and guidance. Please help.”

This is what is being asked of Baby Boomers today. Instead of trying to prolong our youth we should be helping young people face the burdens and responsibilities of adulthood. And we need to work together to heal our broken world. I think of the mentors in my life, and the gifts they gave me. Perhaps most meaningful was the gift from my stepgrandmother, Brenda Ueland. Brenda knew how to bless. She was the most encouraging person I ever met, seemingly interested in everything I had to say, no matter how mundane.She made me feel bold, noble, and full of promise and even potential greatness. She did the same for almost everyone around her.

8/9/2020 1:48:25 PM

I agree with your premise but find it very difficult in practice. When I try to share what I believe is wisdom learned from experience with younger people, many of them refute all that I say. I have learned that compromise is necessary, no one (especially no politician or legislator) is perfect and so the purism test is self-defeating, and that change is constant. The pushback I get is that I am not progressive enough, that I am settling for less than what is needed, that I have lost my ideals and vision. I do remember the impatience of youth and probably shared some of these feelings about older people myself when I was young. But now, more than ever, we are at a turning point and we can't afford to miss our opportunities because young people feel we must wait for the PERFECT solution, not just the much better one. This argument is clearly played out in the 45 vs. Biden question. As a self-defined progressive, Biden was certainly not my choice of candidate for president but here we are. He is an infinitely better choice than more years of 45 and his enablers but I know so many young people who are refusing to vote for him. Frustrating to try to explain to them that they will suffer for their choice if 45 wins and, an even more important message to those young people who are of the white, privileged group, marginalized people will suffer more acutely and more immediately if we do not make the necessary changes in November.

Paul Glover
1/6/2013 12:00:45 AM

As a former professor, I remind my fellow elders that it's their obligation to share knowledge generously with youth, so that society may advance. Universities betray this duty when they crush the young under debt. Every generation must explore the future unchained to the past. Today's youth will need to build healthy cities and farms for their own children. Their only debt is forward.

Holly Jorgensen
1/4/2013 7:36:39 PM

Thanks, Eric. Every time a few words from Brenda pop up, I feel myself inspired again by her wisdom and courage. Holly Jorgensen

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