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You are here: Home Resources E-Newsletter Archive Winter 2008, Issue II One Elder's Story, by Jann McGuire

One Elder's Story, by Jann McGuire

Reflections on When Autumn Comes: Exploring our Elder Years, a retreat focused on the transition into Elderhood.

September 17, 2008


Last spring, while inundated with grief in the loss of my husband, I received a brochure inviting me to a retreat for an exploration of Elderhood.  Like me, the teachers of this Rite of Passage Journey had been associated with the Institute of Cultural Affairs for many years.  Led by these friends, it promised to be a powerful and helpful event.

Coming from California's San Joaquin Valley, so dry and brown in September, the green of the Columbia River Gorge seemed miraculous.  Menucha, the retreat center, overlooked a beautiful view of the river, but I could hardly take my eyes off the trees and flowers of the grounds, and welcomed the cool air that necessitated a sweater that evening. 

To prepare for the retreat, we had been asked to begin ahead of time on a life map. Beginning with my birth in 1937, I got out my Timetables of History book, and listed larger events that had had a personal impact on my life.  In doing this, I anticipated the work of our first morning at the retreat. 

Our introductions conversation was to say our name and the first memory we had of a national or global event.  Mine was of my grandfather, Pop Hale, with his ear to a small white Zenith radio, trying to hear the news of World War II through the static.  About half the group’s memories were of the same war.  Later in the day, we filled an entire wall with national and global events beginning in the thirties.  As the historical context of our lives unfolded before us, we realized how much we had in common and what an awesome time we were privileged to live.

Then came the question, asked in a number of different ways, of how it is we can share and give back to the world the wisdom, knowledge and experience we have gained in our lives, and balance that sharing with our search for personal fulfillment.  One of the men came up with a phrase that I loved, “Old people don’t have to be poor, decrepit and dumb, but can be healthy, wealthy and wise.”

Using the guidelines of the Conversation Café Dialogue, we agreed to be open-minded, accepting, curious, and sincere, to question old assumptions, and to look for new insights.  We talked about where we see signs of hope for the future, what is being called for where elders can and do make a difference.

In our retreat we discussed our vision of the future with one other person.  My journeying from now on will likely be more inward than outward, exploring states of consciousness, gathering the meaning of my experience and writing that for my children and grandchildren.

There was time for solitary reflection, and I took a long walk around the rim of the bluff in all that luscious green. I had time to enjoy the Chartres-style labyrinth which was one of the most beautiful I’ve experienced, and it worked its meditative magic on my consciousness of the moment. There was time for singing together, for sharing jokes, for an elegant soiree, with wine and snacks.  The delicious meals were occasions for furthering our friendships. The group that shared this retreat became very special to me.  I renewed some old friendships and made new ones that will last as long as I do. 

We played with colors, clay, paint or whatever we wished, to form some kind of image of our Elder Work.  My small watercolor was of a solitary figure meditating, her energy centers beaming out rainbow colors. We were to write a short, clear statement of intent that would help us to align our lives in one clear direction.  In the course of the afternoon I had the opportunity to use my hands-on healing skills, for which I had been training for 15 years, but which I had become reluctant to give. My statement of intent was to acknowledge my gift as a healer, and to be open to sharing it with others. I wrote the intent on my painting of the meditating rainbow figure:


A Healer

Of my heart,

Of all my relations,

Especially my mother


In our closing ritual, each one read his or her statement of intent, than rang a bell.  Fred Lanphear led us all in the response, “We hear you, ________, and we welcome you to the Elders Path.” My weekend lived up to its promise as a rite of passage into elderhood. Looking into the mirror, I now see a face relaxing into wrinkles, and I don't even want to stop or criticize the process. I am very grateful to Stan and Fred and Edith for all the work they did to prepare for the event. It was full of wonder.

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