I enjoyed the company of older people. I sought the counsel of a priest or a nun. I chatted with librarians, janitors, security guards, drivers, cashiers, vendors and people living ordinary lives. I talked to older people in hospitals and communities, learning about their condition while taking their blood pressure. Those conversations as a young boy have made me always yearned to hear the wisdom of elders, whom I see as older and more experienced than me. I listen to them when they share their stories and valuable lessons they learned along the way.
I also had a number of unwanted experiences with older people around me. I grew up with a nanny who hurt me for many petty reasons. My grandparents were so strict of many things. My teachers care less for their students but more for their high grades. I met professionals and business people who see in me more as a profit than a presence. I knew neighbors and strangers who behaved rudely and childishly, not expected of being a mature adult. I asked them simple questions, but they were too complicated that they rarely gave satisfying answers. They made me so confused of what it means to be an adult.
Then I grew up, treading an almost solitary journey, trying to understand a complex and difficult world. I searched answers for my questions. Even having new experiences and meeting new people, I decided to stay friendly yet reserved. I let others tell me their stories, but never told my own. Instead of seeking advice, I resorted to reading books and magazines. When the internet boomed, it became my most knowledgeable friend. I learned so much. I had become an erudite, a counsel to others. But I resisted the idea of seeking others’ help. It was a sort of irony that remained unbeknown to me until now.
During the last retreat I attended, I saw the word “arrogance” dancing before my eyes. Then the word “humility” appeared next to it, and both words danced as two fishes swimming together. Then it dawned on me. For many years I was too arrogant. I had deep distrust on other people ‘s potential to help me out on my inner journey, not even asking them for my simplest needs. I never sought the help of the elders in my circle who are also teachers and guides. I listen to their stories but I never dared asking them about my process. When I broke into tears before my mentor, I felt the energy of humility. I knew that I would never grow until I let go of my arrogance and distrust. From then on, I began my healing.
The elders are great healers. Even before speaking a word, their presence heals.
Two years ago, I had writing projects which focused on topics about the elderly. Writing such topics reminded me of how older people of our society have been reduced from elders into elderly. In most studies I have read, many older people are inflicted with many illnesses, abandoned by their adult children, left in nursing homes, and often discriminated and excluded. Today, older people are neglected as much as old age and aging are being dreaded. With our society’s fear of getting older, new technologies have tried to search for the elusive fountain of youth and invented all sorts of drugs just to flatten out a wrinkled skin. This situation is a far cry from the ancient ways of how older people are revered and honored. In Chinese tradition and many indigenous cultures, ancestors are held with lofty reverence even after death. They are seen as source of wisdom and ingenuity. They are the bearers of the community’s ancient memory. They are the teachers and healers like shamans and babaylans. They are the leaders, seers and sages of the people. They are the elders like no other.
I wondered how much I see grown-ups and older people. Perhaps my arrogance represents such attitude. I neglected the elders as wisdom-providers by relying too much on my conceited resourcefulness. And I also dreaded the idea of inviting them to enter my life and see my vulnerabilities. I often assume that they cannot understand, let alone help. Now, with all humility, I am allowing them to heal me. As I have been reading and learning from elders’ written works for the longest time, I now continue by sharing my stories to them. My mentors, who are my elders, have given birth to me with a new awareness. I lay bare my soul to them, and letting them see the separate dots of my experiences and find a constellation of insights. It is more than just “been there, done that” attitude. The elders in my lives are now carers of my soul. In the Buddhist language, the word thera means an elder. Surprisingly, though, this word is the first two syllables of the word therapy. The elders are great healers. Even before speaking a word, their presence heals.
A study reveals that the human brain peaks as it ages. I am thankful to know that its not just the brain that peaks among the elders I know. I witness their minds, hearts and souls peaked more. “Age wears the flesh but galvanizes the soul” says a text in a trading game card. True, for the aging body is the sign of a soul that transcends time and space. For my elders who have journeyed many years in their lifetime, their light marks deeply not just upon my soul but upon many others they have inspired and healed. The elders’ healing does not just heal a weary body, but the spirit too. As they heal me, they heal others, the universe and ultimately, they heal themselves.