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Women Reclaiming Our Physical Power
Teresa Enrico
September 30 or
October 1

Perspectives from an RC Elder

The following is a response from an RC elder to some questions posed by Pam Geyer, the International Liberation Reference Person for Elders.

What do you think and feel about the aging process? Do you regard the increase in chronological years as growth or regression? When (if ever) did you begin feeling old?

I think the aging process is probably natural. However, at least in the “developed” world, the tensions of living in an oppressive society, and the poor diet and lack of exercise, have made it occur sooner than what might be natural.

When I turned sixty I felt panicky that I was getting older, even though I was feeling great. I counseled for six months on the panic. My re-evaluation was that if I lived the way I thought made sense, based on the best values of my religious background, I needn’t worry about getting old or dying since I would be happy living a good life and taking it as far as I could.

Do you set goals, try new things, learn new things as much as you once did? Do you belong to or lead an elders’ support group?

Since the re-evaluation mentioned above, I have viewed getting older as a wonderful chance to learn more, try more challenging things, and be a resource for others while taking elegant care of myself.

Ever since I read Harvey’s1 article “The Importance of Long Range Goals” in The Human Situation, I have taken time twice a year (usually four hours) to fill out parts of the goals chart included in that article (and in the Fundamentals of Co-Counseling Manual). For a long time I could not figure out what might go in the block “My goals for the universe and forever.” But one day I decided to think about it, and I ended up with several goals. Practicing “beauty and order” in an ongoing way was one of them, and it had immediate implications for my own house that week! It helped me clear out a lot of junk and have a beautiful home environment. This has served me, the people in my church, and the RC Community well. 

At one point I put in the chart that I wanted to see a coalition of labor, environmental, and women’s groups grow in my state over the following ten years. Just then I needed to move to a new house and had three houses I was interested in. I picked the one next door to the leading environmental lobbyist in town and over the next two years made good friends with him. Later I involved several women’s groups in working with labor unions on state legislation for workplace safety and easily engaged several environmental groups with the help of my next-door neighbor. We passed fourteen of the twenty-eight legislative proposals we backed.2

In recent years, a number of leg and foot problems have forced me to stay off my feet for months at a time. I decided I could use the time to write a book about organizing for social change. I have read at least sixty books about history, environmental issues, permaculture, organizing successes, issues facing many different constituencies, and so on, and have written fifteen chapters.

I have used my reasonably well-developed skills as a photographer to pursue pastel painting. I also keep finding new ways to be involved in activism led by people of color. I have stopped going to so many white-led meetings.

I lead an RC elders’ support group in my Area.3 The second time we met I renamed it  “An Elders’ Liberation Leaders’ Support Group.” I repeat the name at every meeting and reiterate that I expect each of us to not only be working on our individual liberation as elders but finding ways to lead other elders in our lives. A couple of people found that especially challenging at first but are now thinking of creative ways to be elders’ liberation leaders. We meet only quarterly, because four of us are primary leaders in our RC Area or Region.4

If you have discharged on being an elder or on elders’ oppression, what has worked for you?

The most difficult pattern I have is one that colludes with elders’ oppression. It has to do with5 settling for less and takes the form of resigning myself with the expression “Oh well, what’s the use?” when something seems especially challenging. For six months I have made the commitment in almost every session “I will never again give in to resignation!” It has helped me lose twenty-eight pounds in six months, go to meetings in which I am one of only a few European-heritage people, and keep trying to do pastel painting when what I have done so far looks terrible to me. It has helped me not give up on people who have been off base6 with me and instead pursue them, set things right for myself, and build a stronger relationship with them. It has kept me thinking about having a big life no matter how old I am.

Over twenty years ago I got a direction from Jo Saunders.7 She had me say, “My main work in life is to allow people to enjoy me.” My working-class roots and middle-class adulthood made that seem ridiculous, but it now seems like something to try. There’s no need to be the “big leader.” I can just be there and let people get to know and enjoy me. It seems to be working at church. Several people have started asking me questions about life and oppressive attitudes, for example, “I know you always address racism if you see it. Here’s a situation in which I don’t know what to do. Can you help me?” I think I am looking more approachable and relaxed. 

Have you noticed others counseling effectively on being an elder and on elders’ oppression?

I have seen people counseling on physical limitations and taking better care of themselves by contradicting old patterns of ignoring their own needs. The counseling has usually involved reclaiming love and sympathy for themselves after young lives that included very little love or sympathy.

How regularly do you encounter elders’ oppression? What have you done, or seen, that has contradicted it on the spot (immediately)?

I think I see the oppression almost every day, but I am not totally sure. In large family gatherings, the older people are left to talk to each other. In Radio Shack and other computer stores, I seldom get noticed as a customer. I was about to give a sermon on racism one Sunday, and three men asked me if I needed help, as if I had no business standing there getting my notes ready, and seemed surprised to learn that I was going to preach that day. A— tends to answer the phone as if I am likely to need something. When I recently attended an RC workshop with a broken foot, at least seventeen people asked me, with great urgency in their voices, “Are you planning to drive home by yourself?” Thank goodness8 several others expressed total confidence in my ability to do so. My accelerator foot was fine, and with the automatic shift I was doing great. Although well intentioned, I saw this as a form of elders’ oppression.

People generally lack high expectations for elders. However, allies have held out expectations that we  live big, rich, full, meaningful lives. They have engaged with us and asked questions about our experiences. Or they have told us about new, exciting things they are doing. We want to know.

My successes include living a challenging life, trying new things, and learning constantly. Dottie9 taught us what to say when someone refers to a “senior moment” (a lapse in memory): “Oh no! A senior moment is when we are brilliant, exciting, interesting, and a great example to others. That’s the true meaning of a senior moment.” When someone cannot remember a word, I say, “It doesn’t matter at all. Tell us about it with the words you can recall, and just be brave and keep going.”

I had a success with someone who liked to give me advice about how to manage all sorts of things. I finally wrote her a letter. I told her how much I loved her and appreciated her caring for me. I also said that as I got older, a lot of people wanted to give me advice and it made me feel like they thought I couldn’t manage things well for myself. I said I would like her to not give me advice but to keep caring as she always had and that if I needed her help in figuring things out, I would be sure to ask. She has completely stopped giving me advice.

Anne Mackie
Cary, North Carolina, USA 
Reprinted from the e-mail discussion 
list for RC Community members

1 Harvey Jackins’
2 “Backed” means supported.
3 An Area is a local RC Community.
4 A Region is a subdivision of the International RC Community, usually consisting of  several Areas.
5 “Has to do with” means involves.
6 “Off base” means inappropriate.
7 Jo Saunders is the International Liberation Reference Person for Owning-Class People.
8 “Thank goodness” means thankfully.
9 Dottie Curry, the former International Liberation Reference Person for Elders, who died  on March 10, 2012

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00