Dave Andrews

When my older daughter had her daughter, I became keenly aware of the significance of moving from being a father to being a grandfather. I was aware of the same joy of welcoming our granddaughter, Lila, into our family, as there was when we welcomed our daughter, Evonne (now known as Ruby,) into our family. But I was aware that my role in nurturing my granddaughter would be different from nurturing my daughter. It would be a secondary, rather than a primary role. 

As I have become older, I have been exploring what it means for me to assume a secondary role rather than primary role, and do some eldering not only in my family but also in my community. 

You may ask, ‘Why do I use “to elder” as a verb?’ Indeed some of you, who love the grammar of our language dearly, may want to scream at yet another excruciating example of the modern trend of verbing, that is inexcusably turning yet another a noun into a verb. But Rabbi Zalman insists there is some excuse.  He says, ‘Eldering for me is a process word, a verb that connotes change… It doesn’t connote the unchanging frozen state of a noun. When we call someone a “senior,” for example, this noun points to a static, lifeless condition. It’s as if a state called “senior” has been attained and all further organic growth had ceased. But when I refer to someone as “eldering,” the “ing” of the word refers to a state of growth… a process with endless possibilities. Eldering implies that we take active responsibility for our destiny in old age, living by conscious choice rather than social expectation.’ 

As I have thought about it I have become convinced that what the good Rabbi encourages us to call ‘eldering,‘ for me, is less formal and more familial, but a lot like what we might call ‘coaching

A few years ago I left the community I live in for a while to go on a sabbatical. When I returned I asked my friends whether my absence from the community had made any difference. They said it had. When I asked them – in what way they had missed me – my friend Neil, who loves football, said: ‘We didn’t miss you as a player. We can play the game well enough by ourselves. But I guess we missed you as our coach.’ Ever since I have tried to be mindful of the fact, at this stage of life, people need me to be less of a ‘player’ and more of a ‘coach’ – a contemporary ‘life coach’.

Eldering‘, like ‘coaching’, is not authoritarian. It is not about giving directions or advice. It is about encouraging people to develop their own ‘authority’ themselves – as ‘authors of their own ideas, their own words and their own deeds’. ‘Eldering‘, like ‘coaching’, is not instructional. It’s not about preaching or about teaching. It subscribes to no prescribed curriculum and issues no set decrees. It is an invitation to co-learning, encouraging integrity in one another. ‘Eldering‘, like ‘coaching’, may or may not be religious. But it is always ‘spiritual’. ‘Spirituality’ is about life lived ‘at depth’. And ‘eldering‘ is about encouraging people to get in touch with what they think and how they feel ‘in-the-depths of their soul.’

Both ‘eldering‘ and ‘coaching’ at their best are about helping people discover their ‘vocation’. ‘Vocation’ is not a call to be like someone else whom we might hold up as an ideal, but to be true to our real selves whom we were created to be. However, while ‘coaches’ may be ‘professionals’, elders are ‘amateurs’. The concept of an ‘amateur’ comes from the Latin word ‘amator‘, which in English means ‘love’, and in this context it means ‘someone who does something for the love of it.’ While a  ‘professional’ is a paid role, the ‘amateur’ is not a paid role at all.  Those of us who choose to ‘elder‘ the emerging generations –  seeking to nurture generative and regenerative engagement in our world – do it ‘for the love of it’.’

Now, even those of us who choose to be elders, are not always elders; sometimes we’re somewhat quite crotchety elderly people. But I know from my own experience, we can be renewed in our love, do the inner work we need to do overcome our own inertia, and recover our charism to be elders.  

When my dear friend Martin Wroe, a poet-priest, introduced me to an audience at the Greenbelt Festival, he said:  ‘I like to think of Dave Andrews as a weirdy, beardy, proverbially wise-old, kind-old, be-slippered, fire-sided, snoozy, fearless, story-telling, grand-fatherly, rugged, tribal-leader.’ 

And I’d like to think on a good day, it might be so.

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