The Gospel of Mark records the story of the blind man of Bethsaida. Jesus and his disciples had come to that village, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to heal him. Jesus touched the man’s eyes with saliva then asked him, “Can you see anything?” The man responded that he saw people, but they looked like trees walking around. Then Jesus laid his hands on the man’s eyes again; “and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly” (8:22-25).
Older adults are rather like the blind man of Bethsaida. With the second sight of older age, we now see how the pieces of our lives fit together — how all we learned, all we did, all we experienced have molded us into the person we have become. “Old age enlightens,” says author Joan Chittister, “not simply ourselves . . . but those around us as well.”
In former times, our “elders” were keepers of wisdom who led their communities through times of change and evolution. They held the stories that kept communities and society safe and provided touchstones for well-being and a sense of identity. In some Native American cultures, it was the circle of grandmothers who made decisions for the tribe. Not even war could not be declared without the consent of the council of grandmothers known as the Clan Council.
We have things to do as older adults. It is a time for examining our lives and taking from them all that we have learned – by both success and failure – and passing it on to those coming after us.
Our skills have been honed and molded by the living of our lives. We are business people, teachers, writers, artists, organizers, crafters, activists, contemplatives and more. We need now to find places and people who are receptive to our contributions.
A beginning place is to consider the particular gifts God has given each of us and where the roads of life have taken us. What are the seeds that were dropped into our particular soil, how have they sprouted, and what seeds for growth can we now spread? What are the passions that have called to us in our lives?
A second question is what is the need in our various communities – our families, our neighborhoods, our churches, our society? It’s a vocational question – where does our great passion meet the world’s great need, as Frederick Buechner put it.
Think about your personal interests. Do you like animals? You might call your local humane society to see if they need volunteers. Do you love babies? There might be a baby-rocking brigade in the nursery at a nearby hospital. Would you rather read to young children? Communities in Schools always needs volunteers. Did you run your own small business? SCORE, the nation’s largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors, is dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals.
In your local church or congregation, you might gather the elders, assess the skills and abilities among you, and evaluate the needs both in the church and in the community. Then match needs with those who have abilities.
More broadly, there are organizations devoted to social justice issues such as the environment, politics, hunger and homelessness.
Below are some website links to get started.
Elders Action Network
EAN is socially active, primarily in the areas of sustainable living, climate, education, and social justice. The organization is motivated to initiate a cultural shift wherein elders reclaim their place in providing education, wisdom, and guidance within their communities, thereby becoming catalysts of a social movement of elders collaborating with all generations to evolve transitions for our common betterment. (From the Elders Action Network website.)
SCORE, the nation’s largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors, is dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals. Since 1964, SCORE has provided education and mentorship to more than 11 million entrepreneurs. SCORE is a separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). With more than 10,000 dedicated volunteers, SCORE is able to deliver most of their offerings at no cost. (From the SCORE website.)
Communities in schools
Working directly in 2,500 schools in 25 states and the District of Columbia, Communities In Schools builds relationships that empower students to stay in school and succeed in life. CIS’s school-based staff partner with teachers to identify challenges students face in class or at home and coordinate with community partners to bring outside resources inside schools. From immediate needs like food or clothing to more complex ones like counseling or emotional support, CIS does whatever it takes to help students succeed. (From the Communities in Schools website.)