Every culture has rites of passage. There are birthdays and bar mitzvahs, graduations and weddings. The occasions are usually marked in some way, often with parties and a gathering of friends and family.
A few years ago I was escorted through such a rite of passage at the Siletz pow-wow. Three lovely young girls, dressed in the regalia of jingle dancers, declared me an Elder. It was a moment of great pride.
I thought it would be my next to last rite of passage, with the final one being when Richard hands my few pounds of ashes to my daughter. I was wrong.
Last week I endured another rite of passage. This time, instead of rising gracefully into the exalted state of Elderhood, I tumbled awkwardly into the pit of Oldfart.
The obvious differences
While there is a physical resemblance between Elders and oldfarts, there are important differences that are not as obvious.
When Elders are faced with a huge project beyond their physical ability, they ask family to do the job or hire help. They then prepare food for the workers, make sure everyone drinks enough water and stands by with bandages, ice packs and encouragement.
Oldfarts tackle the job themselves, forget to eat, don't drink enough water, and can't reach the spot where the bandage needs to be applied. Need to level a tilted half-acre with a shovel? No problem!
Elders have serenity and a sense of perspective, while oldfarts snap and snarl in a futile attempt to prime the empty well of energy. Besides, if I don't growl I'll burst into tears of frustration and exhaustion.
Elders have strength and courage, while oldfarts have to drag anything weighing more than 30 pounds and are terrified by the rustle of legal papers.
Elders wake each morning, grateful to have another day. Oldfarts sit on the edge of the bed groaning and wonder if they can get through another day.
Elders have history written on their faces. Oldfarts have rotator cuffs and bruises the size of saucers.
The good part is that within every oldfart is an Elder, waiting to be acknowledged. If we can just step far enough back from the huge project of the moment, we can find the Elder hidden within.
Besides, the last huge project of the season has been completed. While I stubbornly leveled the tilted hillside by myself, I had plenty of help building the deck for Rubber Tubby.
The Elder within
Falling into the trap of oldfart behavior was a disaster. For one thing, I hurt myself badly enough that I had to take a week off work. Even worse, my hands and wrists ached so bad I couldn't play piano.
Hidden within this oldfart is an Elder full of grace and gratitude, with stories to tell and wisdom to impart. Let the youngsters tackle the big, heavy projects. Elders have better sense, and I'm an Elder.
Unfortunately, my primary role is Object Lesson, so the best we can hope for is that I'll learn to play the role of Elder more often than the role of oldfart.