Elders Among Us

Elders Among Us


I read a book recently handed to me by one of our fellow seniors in our church. It was given to me without comment, kind of in character for this person perhaps looking to see what I might have to say about it. Title of the book? Those Who Know: Profiles of Alberta’s Native Elders by Dianne Meili (Edmonton: NeWest Press, 1991). With only a slight stir of interest I began paging in it a bit – and promptly got taken in! Two days later it was read cover to cover and fully in among all the other things I think about! Fascinating, the author, former editor of Windspeaker, an Edmonton-based Aboriginal newspaper, having grown up in but left Catholicism, testifies to a spiritual discovery as she profiles thirty-one elders who have lived every kind of life – trapline, army, hunting and fishing camps, in jail, in residential schools.

Not only fascinating stories, but this book compels a deep appreciation for those who have counselled, prayed, fasted, healed, and helped birth. Ms Meili attributes her faith recovery to interviews with these elders who enriched her life while she was preparing the book.

I think of my tradition, the Mennonites. Historians will say the early and rural versions of us have mostly showed a greater respect for elders than us modern urbanites. Yet I do recall my years of pastoring during the 1980s and 90s first in Edmonton, then Calgary, the two big cities in Alberta. Serving on a Ministers and Deacons Committee most of that time, as though by divine design there would usually be at least one or two retired older members on most of committees. They usually brought the humor, some counsel and often just plain old assurance for us livewires that we were doing ‘a good thing.’ ☺ Very important in our midst, they were the ones who knew. Of course there were also the “really old ones,” those who did not serve on committees anymore, but still showed up, loved to visit, sometimes with tales of woe and also tales of inspiration, repeated a few times just to make sure we got the point!

This reminds me of another book I read several years prior. Peter J. Dyck, in Getting Home Before Dark (Herald Press, 2000) was well-known for his philanthropy and post WW2 legendary presence, helping both victimized and/or guilt laden European Christians deal with postwar trauma including emigration to North and South America. This book does not detail those years, even though rich in incidents and anecdotes of that time. It’s a personable account of Mr. Dyck even among all this action, wondering about his upcoming evening years, “Lord, let me get home before dark” to die before age would rob him of his ability to be kind, trusting, loving and generous.

Good reminder here for all. Especially with improved healthcare, our lifespan by now is many-generational and very multicultural. Elders need to claim the good rest; not try to impress everybody with their wisdom, no need to be a saint to get old! And to the younger folk, especially in these days of digitalized communication and/or entertainment, remember your elders were already living their life when you were born! 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.  Ephesians 3:21