I Am An Elder!

May 14, 2015
Jean Mesendick



I recall the occasion of my thirteenth birthday when my older (18 year-old) brother pulled me aside and said, “You know, now when they talk about how terrible teenagers are, they are also talking about you”.   I had just become part of an age group that was widely disparaged and slapped with labels like juvenile delinquents, hippies, and hoodlums. There were other pigeonholes that also were part of the vernacular of the day: protester, draft dodger, preppie, and flower child. At thirteen I was now eligible for one or more of the stereotypes of the day. This was the 1960’s and the world was at once simpler and more complicated. This was the decade of Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, the Space Race and several heart wrenching assassinations.

Now, those of my generation are facing new labels, stereotypes and pigeonholing. I hope that the lessons we learned through those turbulent years of protests and activism serve us well now. Yes, we are Elders! We have experiences and knowledge. Some of us even have wisdom and an eagerness to share it.

Many of you reading this have likely realized some time ago that you are an Elder. Silly as it sounds, this just occurred to me recently. In all of my teaching and advocating I continued to think of Elders as those I must serve and protect, those who may lack a voice to speak out against the three plagues of loneliness, helplessness and boredom. I have stood on the side of families who wanted something different for their loved one and for the employee care partners who knew that things needed to change. With my new realization that I, too, am an Elder, this just became more personal.

What fun it is to once again don the mantle of a protester and stand shoulder to shoulder with others fighting the currently acceptable “ism” of ageism.   Just as we once fought for the rights of minorities we must now stand for the inherent value that comes with Elderhood. We have railed against the kind of discrimination that designates a group of people as other, inferior, and second-class before. We know that this is a battle for hearts and minds and we are uniquely prepared for it.

Now I more fully appreciate the institutional memory that comes from living in this American culture for sixty years. I recognize that all of these experiences have given those of my generation the muscle memory that it will take to make big changes in the attitudes and assumptions of our greater society. The Boomers can be a force of nature. We have long been told about the enormous consumer power of our generation. I would suggest that we use this to relentlessly demand a paradigm shift that empowers and enriches the lives of Elders.

We have been down this road before and we remember how persistent were the roadblocks. Oh yes, we have been disruptive before. That Fickle Finger of Fate has designated us as instigators and I think that is just fine.

In fact, I think it is Far Out!

Jean Mensendick is an Eden Educator and Culture Change Consultant

6 Comments. Leave new

Jennifer Berg
May 14, 2015 1:00 pm

Thank you! What a wonderful commentary. I am fast reaching 54 and have been given super-sized energy to ensure that my Elder years continue to be supersized with love, joy, and service to others!

Jean Mensendick
May 14, 2015 6:37 pm

Jennifer, So glad this resonated with you! Your super sized energy, love and joy will surely be needed on this journey. Shaking things up, waking folks up and being disruptive can be such a positive thing.

Barbara Smullen
May 14, 2015 1:57 pm

MARVELOUS1!!! What an obvious and useful comparison; how amazing that nobody has identified it previously and pointed it out to those of us as Elders who can do, not just something, but a LOT to eradicate the stereotypes about ageism that so widely permeate our society. I think that all the wonderful work being done with the Eden Alternative at present is and should be a major source for social change. However, I find that one of the most effective ways to do away with ageism is what we can do on a one to one basis. Just as, at thirteen, you could demonstrate a different model of teen by BEING a different kind of teen., I think as an Elders our willingness to share who we are and what we are is doing is one of the loudest voices for change.. I find people astonished that at 71 years of age (which I consider pretty young) and in spite of a number of major medical issues, I take courses, do public speaking, translating from Spanish to English, and volunteer in other ways at my church,will go to a movie alone if I don’t have a friend who wants to see it…in other words, I LIVE fully as “Me”…live fully who I am and share those experiences with all sorts of others….whether stranger or friend, bus driver or bus passenger or store clerk…not that I go around making a scene or giving a speech, but rather, in usual social conversation I share enough of myself that I portray an Elder as a “normal” person who is fully alive! This, I think, is the most effective way to change who we are now told we are as Elders. Thanks so much; I hope you will take your idea and run with it!! Stay in touch!!

Jean Mensendick
May 14, 2015 6:42 pm

Barbara, what a great response. One of my favorite things about what you wrote is that you never used the word STILL. On Dr. Thomas’s Second Wind tour that was such a strong point for me. If you had inserted the word STILL into any of those sentences it would have totally changed the meaning. Of course you are vibrant and full of life. Of course you are both learning and teaching others. You are a powerful woman and your chronological age is just a statistic. Bravo! I hope we have a chance to meet and continue the conversation.


I love that you wrote this:

The Boomers can be a force of nature. We have long been told about the enormous consumer power of our generation. I would suggest that we use this to relentlessly demand a paradigm shift that empowers and enriches the lives of Elders.

My intention is that Elder is restored as our natural Third Stage of life – wise, compassionate and treasured.

It seems that this is also what you are up to.

Jean Mensendick
May 19, 2015 5:17 pm

Thank you, Harvey. There is much work to be done but I feel confident that we have the time, talent, passion and tools to accomplish this. We have all been witness to cultural changes that seemed impossible at one time and now are completely mainstream. Let’s do it again!


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