From Age-Ing To Sage-Ing
By Queen Michel
I completed an eight-session class recently called Age-ing to Sage-ing. It was based on a book entitled “From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Revolutionary Approach to Growing Older” written over twenty years ago by beloved and respected rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi. I became aware of the class during a Friday hike/ conversation.
While hiking, a friend informed me that she and her husband had signed up for it, and the class was starting on that upcoming Monday, November 19th. It would meet every other Monday through the end of February. I became instantly intrigued as my friend stated the premise of the class was about changing one’s paradigm about aging and subsequently dying.
That Monday, I entered the Lake Chapala Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Church building a little before 3:00pm and was warmly greeted and given a name tag to fill out. I took a seat near my hiking buddies and waited for the start of class. There were around 23 people present. The class started with introductions, the teachers Richard Clark and Rev. Matt Alspaugh introduced themselves and stated their age. We followed suit. I gauged that myself, along with 3 others were the only people in their 50’s, everyone else was in their 60’s, 70’s and one gentleman was in his 80’s. I remember thinking that in 20 years I’d be in my mid 70’s too and I had a whole other lifetime to live. I wanted to live it consciously and purposeful as possible.
The first class gave an overview of the difference between being elderly and being an elder. I soon began to understand the negative connotations attached to aging. Unfortunately, western society is more inclined to see the ‘elderly’ the way they are described in Ecclesiastes 12 verses 1 and 3. One says, “Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, ‘Life is not pleasant anymore.’”
It gets even worse in verse three when issues with body functions are pointed out. It states, “Remember him before your legs– the guards of your house- start to tremble; and before your shoulders– the strong men- stoop. Remember him before your teeth– your few remaining servants- stop grinding; and before your eyes– the women looking through the windows-see dimly.” That’s a pretty bleak picture of aging and being elderly painted for society.
On the other hand, an elder is regarded quite differently in society. An elder is considered wise. Elders are the mentors, mediators, monitors, mobilizers and motivators of their family, community and the Earth. At the end of class, we were given journal writing homework. It was explained that our journal work was private, though we might have chances to share in later sessions if we wanted to. I remember leaving class that day thinking that as I aged, I wanted in my BEing to be an elder vs. BEing elderly. I could tell this class was going to really shine a light on exactly how to do that. I downloaded the book as soon as I got home.
The remaining seven classes that met every other Monday from 3:00pm – 5:00pm were full of insightful information. In each class I encountered rich open discussions, gentle meditations, and thought provoking; handouts, poems, and readings. It was expanding mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I took pleasure in the breakout sessions where I dialoged with various classmates one on one.
I found them to be fascinating BEings, with sagacious perspectives on life, death and aging. Class was always so interesting. I most enjoyed the class exercises, for example, I planned a testimonial dinner for the severe teachers in my life. I reflected on and thanked them for the unexpected good fortune that resulted from what seemed like an injustice inflicted upon me.
In another exercise I wrote an ethical will, telling those dear to me the essential things that I wanted to see endured. What I struggled greatly with was writing my own obituary. A realization I had was that the language in my obituary will be quite different from your typical program. I don’t want it to be written about my degrees, titles, or career accomplishments, but how I gave, shared, and was in service to this Earth by living my greatest and highest good just BEing.
During the last class, everyone shared one final time in any form that resonated with them, what they had gleaned most from the experience. At the end, there was a ceremony in which we were presented Wisdom-keeper certificates minting the ascension into elder-hood.
Afterwards a potluck ensued. We all had been on a journey together over the course of three months and I believe by what each shared that day, we all are the better for having taken the class. As for me, a path was illuminated that allowed me to re-contextualize my past and see the importance of aging consciously. In doing so, l will organically BEcome a sage, an elder and a wisdom-keeper. I like to think that’s what Michelle Obama meant when she entitled her national best-selling book, Becoming.