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Becoming an elder leads us to reflect on what legacy we are leaving for our children

– Posted in: Positive Ageing
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Lynne Iser
Lifelong activist and founder of Elder-Activists.org

Lynne is an elder activist who says, “Most of my adult life I have taught workshops focused on Conscious Aging, and on creating community to support our lives and further our values.  My concern for the state of our world led me to study with Joanna Macy and work with the Elders Action Network. We are building an elders’ movement, addressing social and environmental issues as our legacy to future generations.” Here is her essay prepared for the Pass It On Network.

They say that our children are our greatest teachers. I became most aware of my responsibility to leave a beautiful, thriving world when I heard my youngest daughter bemoaning the state of the world.  My heart opened to her pain as she contemplated her future after hearing reports of climate change and its impact on the world in which we all live.  In that moment, I did not know what I could or would do, but the encounter in my kitchen reset my life’s work as I began to consider the legacy that I was leaving to my children – to all our children.

It is in the last quarter of our lives that we seriously begin to consider our legacies.  Perhaps it is because we have children or others we feel responsible for and want to leave something to them that we value.   It is likely we are responding to that inner urge that Freud called thanatos, and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi renamed our completing instinct, which becomes activated as we enter our elder years.

It is this thanatos, this completing instinct, that is operable in our elder years.  If we understand and bow to its power, it can guide us through the journey of our elderhood so that we leave this life feeling satisfied and complete.

Life Review and Bucket Lists

To acknowledge our mortality is a gift to our selves.  It empowers us to use our time and our resources wisely.  Perhaps we initiate a process of life review, reminding ourselves of what we have done in life, and what we still want to do – our “bucket list.”  As a result, we might reframe difficult moments and let go of old grudges.  We prioritize what is important, how we want to spend our time, and with whom we want to be – knowing that our days and years are finite.

This is a part of the process of “completing our lives.”  If we picture our life as a painting, our elder years provide the time to do the finishing touches and make our picture complete.  We get to add color and highlights – to see the spirit, the essence of our life as a whole, as a gift to be shared.

This process of life completion includes both the inner work of becoming an elder, described briefly above, and also an outer expression if we are to achieve a sense of full satisfaction with our lives.  We don’t just live for ourselves, so how do we express the wisdom we have harvested; the values we hold dear; the history and the stories that have given meaning to our lives?  The beauty of the world, the love we feel for others?  This all becomes the legacy that we leave to future generations.

It is as if we press the “Save” button on our computer to insure that all that we have learned is available to the “hard drive” of our collective consciousness. (Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi).

Legacy for Future Generations

We might say that legacies assure our immortality.  As our values, our stories, our memories continue to be shared, we continue to live on, past our death and hopefully for many generations.

Just as we all are unique, legacies come in many forms and expressions.  Let me tell you about my maternal grandmother.  She died when I was only 9 months old, so of course I have no memory of her.  But when my mother and aunt would speak about her, they would invariably say, “Oh Mama, she was such a kind lady.  She never said a mean word about anybody.”  That became my grandmother’s legacy to me – that if you are kind, and careful about what you say, you will be remembered with love — a powerful lesson for a young girl.

Meg Newhouse introduces her book, Legacies of the Heart, by writing, “Most of us leave behind ‘footprints’ that vanish within a few generations, at best.  Nonetheless, these footprints are our precious, unique legacies, connecting us with unborn generations.”

So what will be your precious unique legacy?  As the poet, Mary Oliver, said:

“What will you do with your one precious life?”

These are the questions that haunted me in direct response to my daughter’s outburst in my kitchen about the state of the world.  My mind whirled in the weeks following, wondering what could I do about the world?  How could I have an impact?  Slowly, ideas began to emerge.

Boomers have Skills, Experience and Resources to Offer

I recognized that the boomers were the fastest growing segment of the population, and that we had many resources, networks, skills, experiences plus that inner urge to leave a legacy.  What might happen if we used our resources to leave a collective legacy of a thriving and just world for future generations?

I decided to develop a website, Elder-Activist.org, and share what I was learning and teaching.  I also connected with the Elders Action Network and discovered that they were doing exactly what I wanted to do, so that now I had others to work with! Together, we are building a movement of elders addressing the social and environmental crises that we all are facing.  We learn together, support each other, and take actions so that we, as a generation, as elders, can have a positive impact on the decisions now being made so that they will benefit future generations.

This has become my work, my unique path.  We each must find our work and our path through our elder years as we take this time to create our legacy.   That is the work of our elder years:

To become an elder who deserves respect and honor and whose work is to synthesize wisdom from long life experience and formulate this into a legacy for future generations.  (Live Oak Institute, Barry & Debby Barkan)

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