Walking composition

Elderhood and citizenship

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Stephen Jenkinson’s book Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble. I’ve been following Jenkinson for a few years after being introduced to his work on dying through the Pondercast podcast and am always eager to find more of his thinking.

I think Come of Age is possibly easier to read if you’ve listened to some of his talks and can hear his voice in the writing, or watched the short documentary about him on Vimeo titled Griefwalker. But his points about our lack of elders—particularly that being an elder has nothing to do with being elderly; it’s something cultivated and earned—made me think about whether we’re in a similar place with citizenship. We have legal citizens of societies, and plenty of people who agitate and complain about politics, but what does it mean to be an engaged, involved citizen? It’s hard and boring and often daunting work but it’s demanded of all of us if we want our societies to function. I’ve been pushing for more people to vote for many years, but we don’t just need voters; we need citizens in the same way we desperately need elders.

I am fortunate to have had a few people in my life whom I think of as elders. Unfortunately, they all died when I was young. I think I’m always searching for more, even if unconsciously.