As I watch the seniors in my class and at home, the young seniors and the elders, and consider my own place on that continuum, one word comes to mind again and again: permission.
We cannot reach or teach those in our care, whether older or much younger, if they will not give us permission to say or do anything; nor can they get where they want to go, become what they want to be, if they do not find a way to give themselves permission to listen to us, but also to themselves.
Permission is subtle, often not even spoken; yet you can tell when someone gives it. They yield, they listen a bit more, look a bit longer.
All the more difficult, however, that those we care about most–our own children–often withdraw that permission, revoke our library card, telling us that they are now closed for a time and not interested in checking out the wisdom we have spent our lives gathering to give to them.
Under such circumstances, we must give them permission to do this; we must also give ourselves permission to look on, often while they suffer in some way we find difficult to watch. It is during such seasons, however, that they are making themselves.
Remember when our children were young, entering into those periods between one stage and the next, when they slept longer and later? And the doctor would say that during that sleep they were growing, preparing themselves for the self they would wake to, the one that was a little less ours and a bit more their own? And if we tried to help, to do things we once did for them, they would say with that huffy voice, "I'll do it myself!"
So it is with the young senior who is trying on that early adult self, the one that doesn't fit them so well yet, but into which they will grow. So it is with the elderly senior who must, after a lifetime of doing for others, permit those people to now do things for them, permit themselves to be cared for, provided for, as they move into their own next season.
And those of us in the middle, who shuffle between caring for parents in the morning and kids in the evening, as we all grow older together? We must give ourselves permission to look for and listen to those who know the territory ahead, whose voices can assure us we will make it through to the other side of this season where the days fall like leaves too many to catch. We must give ourselves permission to still listen to ourselves and to live out all those stories we have told but not yet lived.