by Beatrix Bliss: A director of Edventure and group facilitator.
Elderventure is a new group that’s started in Frome that comes from a realisation that older people are not valued in British culture and want to change that.
What most surprised me about the first Elderventure gathering that I attended one evening a couple of weeks ago, was not that I was the youngest person there, but that I found myself crying for a good part of the second half. As people approached me at the end to comfort me, looking a bit perplexed at the outpouring of emotion, I reflected on what it was that I was feeling sad about, and what was this feeling of grief for.
I realised that I was crying for a whole host of reasons, and almost channeling a collective sense of loss I was feeling on behalf of the society to which I partake every day. I was crying for the sense of loneliness and isolation that one member of the group, a 91 year old woman living at the Blue House, expressed. I was also crying for my grandfather who I never really knew, and who died having pretty much given up on life and very depressed. I cried for all the people who are feeling alone and isolated, old or young.
I was crying for the sense of being invisible that people in the group expressed, especially in relation to people who might have felt attracted to them before, describing that moment of realization when they suddenly felt unseen – for one man it was when on holiday in Italy and he realized that the donnas he was admiring could not ‘see’ him.
But most of all, I was crying for the young people in my generation who are calling out for elders. Elders not in the sense of people who are old, but elders in the sense of people who can be there – to lend an ear, to be steady (in their post-rat race pace), who have cultivated wisdom that they are now able to share, not in the sense of giving advice, but in the ability to ask the right questions at the right time.
Bill Palmer, co-founder of the group described the subtle yet important distinction between ‘elder’ and ‘older’ in terms of the direction of energy “as people get older there’s a tendency for the energy to contract inwards and become more self-absorbed, in an elder all of that experience is coming outwards and going back out into the world, rather than contracting inwards and focusing on the past or yourself”, and that “peoples attitudes to older people won’t change until older people change their own attitudes towards themselves.”
Another way to describe the motivations behind Elderventure is this idea of “trying to complete the circle so that life becomes a circulation, like the seasons’ cycles, the fruit drops and the nourishment that’s built up in the fruit is used to plant the next seed, as opposed to what currently happens in society and older people are put on the rubbish heap.”
I moved to Frome two years ago, and feel privileged to have been working at Edventure, where we support young adults to set up social enterprises, but also lucky to have been working in a cross-generation team. The oldest member of the team, Neil, also co-founder of Elderventure, has brought a refreshing, relaxed sense and perspective to our otherwise 20/30 something team stressing ourselves out to do more, faster, better, all the time.
Moreover, the presence of people like him and his partner Ali, and other neighbours Cameron and Daniela offering a place to stay, an ear or even a stiff drink after a hard day’s work(!) is invaluable. Knowing that they are there, should I need their support gives a comforting feeling of safety and belonging to which I am eternally grateful (and I think the feelings might be mutual).
I just hope that by the time I’m their age, the work they have started through Elderventure will trigger a ripple down effect through the generations, so that by the time I’m an elder, I’ll be surrounded by younger people, sharing wisdom across the generations, learning from each other and taking care of each other, just how it should, and used, to be.