Advocating elderhood (Opinion)

John Sorensen, Columnist

For all you post-career Truckee folks, the following is to persuade you that elderhood, the period of life between adulthood and old age, can be a joyous, fulfilling time that everyone can look forward to. For sake of discussion, I’m defining Elderhood to begin around age 55 and run to beyond 85, some 30 plus years.

To set the context, we live in a youth-obsessed culture. We are inundated with marketing material about how to stay young forever, with our looks and values. Look at the covers of typical magazines you see in the grocery store – young attractive men and women with buff physiques and no hint of a wrinkle. For those thinking ahead to retirement, the common cultural expectation is to go live in a retirement community where one can spend time doing crafts, playing more golf, and taking it easy. In other words, it’s the time to leave the mainstream of life.

But underneath that message there is a feeling of dread. “If I stop working, I won’t have meaning and purpose anymore. My body will start falling apart, I’ll suffer, and then I’ll die. I don’t want to think about that.”

We’ve all heard some folks say they didn’t feel good about turning 50. We’ve heard that they hated seeing their parents not able to function physically like they once could. Those feelings are very understandable from living in our youth-oriented culture.

Here is a different perspective as one who is in the middle of my elderhood years. This is why I enjoy being an elder.

· First of all, we are living longer, healthier, and with more energy than ever before in our known 150,000 year human history. This gives us the time and opportunity to re-invent ourselves.

· We typically enter elderhood with talent, knowhow and resources acquired from life up to this point. We don’t want these assets wasted.

· We naturally want to be useful and give back in some way for all that we have been given. We want meaning and purpose.

· The good news is that there is a plethora of causes in which to become involved. Social and environmental justice issues abound, and to work on any of these gives us a sense that we are doing

valuable work for the sake of our communities, future generations and all of life.

· The challenge is to identify the purpose that really draws us, and then pursue that purpose energetically while using our accumulated knowhow. Such activities provide a sense of purpose, and we can become passionate about our involvement with them.

· Another interesting aspect about elderhood: It is an emerging new phase of human life, and we are pioneers in defining what it will become.

· In this process, we are reclaiming our rightful roles as providers of guidance for our neighborhoods and communities. These are the traditional elders’ roles that the indigenous people and Eastern cultures have long valued and honored. We elders have valuable life-learned wisdom to share, and we recognize that our American society could benefit greatly by embracing that wisdom.

· Beyond being able to work on meaningful causes, this is a happy time, too. We are able to be in communities with people who share our common values and interests. We enjoy the fellowship, we discuss and act upon topics at a deeper level, and we laugh a lot as we poke fun at ourselves.

[A few years back I heard Carl Reiner, who was then a robust 93, say that the first thing he does every morning is read the daily obituaries. If he doesn’t see his name there, he concludes that it is OK to go have some breakfast.]

Getting serious now, in looking for what I would do, twelve years ago, I got the idea of forming a group of elder activists who would confront the multiple threats to our society. Foremost is the threat of climate change due to our burning fossil fuels, but also, our democracy is being threatened, racism remains, and economic disparity continues to widen. In 2014, I met with 40 other like-minded elders, and out of that we founded the Elders Action Network (EAN) and its Elders Climate Action campaign. EAN has grown to over 30,000 nationwide elders taking action in their communities.

In conclusion, I ask you to consider elderhood differently, not as a period of life to dread, but one to embrace as a period of joy, fulfillment, and deeper companionship – one that can provide you

with a wonderful legacy of meaning to leave behind. Check us out at

And with that, here’s to life . . . all of life!

Truckee resident John Sorensen founded Elders Action Network and its Northern California Elders Climate Action chapter. He is a climate and pro-democracy activist at local, state and national levels. John is an avid High Sierra hiker, reader and advocate for post-career community service.

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