We’re not getting old . . . we’re becoming Elders

Bead People

I am sitting in a Starbucks in Edina, MN.  Milt is at a movie at his favorite theater , and I’m taking the time to catch my breath.  This morning we did two Bead People projects that were a cooperative project between a 4th grade class and the Bayport Senior Center and a 6th grade class and the Stillwater Senior Center.  The students were having a blast—so were the volunteers—playing with beads, building bodies, heads, arms and legs.  There still is nothing better than plopping down beautiful trays of beads in front of a bunch of young people (or old people).  It is creative, colorful, fun, noisy, and full of stillness all at the same time.

The purpose of The Bead People is to celebrate our differences—color, size, race, religion—and age.  When each class was done today, I tried something a bit different.  Always after we have created our Bead People, we come together in a circle to talk about peace and what it means to celebrate our differences.  I asked all of the volunteers from the Senior Centers to form a circle behind the student circle.  Some of them needed chairs—others sat on the floor with the students.   I explained to the students that these are our Elders—they have our back, they support us, they are wise and have had many life experiences.  I could almost see the backs of the Elders straighten.  I looked around and saw that I, too, have become a “senior” while I wasn’t looking.  Some of the volunteers were much older than I, but many were my age.  I thought how sad it is that in our current society we become seniors, or elderly, or just plain old when we all deserve and have the responsibility to take our place as Elders.  There is much we have to share with these younger generations—things of great importance.

After the students were gone I asked some of the lingering volunteers what it felt like to be called “Elder” and to be recognized in that way.  Unanimously they agreed that it was wonderful—one woman said, “I felt so wise.”

As much as our Native communities have suffered from colonization and war, I give them much credit for not forgetting our Elders.  Becoming a respected Elder should be the golden prize of a life well lived, for the suffering we have endured, for the wisdom we have gained—and the mistakes we have made that led to such wisdom.

Today felt special.  I hope I get the chance to do many more of these collaborative projects between youth and their Elders.  Even as I sit here today I’m waiting for a call from my friend Maggie.  We are submitting a proposal to do a Youth Radio Project in northern MN.  This will give us many more opportunities to put the generations together.  The project idea has been gestating for many years, but a couple of months ago I called Maggie and told her I had been thinking about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  She laughed—sounds heady, she said.  I told her I really want to work more with the young people.  I want to help them find place, a voice, and strength and not just be tossed to the winds of crap media and relentless desire for stuff.  This proposal is a first step.

The Bead People recently made the news in Lakeland.  I was going to add a link, but can’t seem to find it.  I’ll add it later!   Thanks Jamil!  Let’s make a little beautiful bead noise in the world.  Here is the link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2xwGeaOCUY&feature=player_embedded  Be sure to share it with others.

Don’t worry.  Bead Happy.

Have you got yours?

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We’re not getting old . . . we’re becoming Elders — 7 Comments

    • Hi Leanne,

      Thanks for the nice comment. There is something about this youth radio project that wants to grow wings. I hope that it does–eagle wings. Thanks for the help also. When I get back from Rapid City lets have a cup.

  1. It was a bunch of fun alright! Too fast of a trip but life doesn’t seem to wander much anymore – seems more like a gallup.

    How about some coffee?

  2. What a great idea for a project, Jamie. I have to admit, when I was ‘a youth,’ I felt somewhat uncomfortable around seniors, didn’t know how to talk with them, and thought they were kind of boring. I hadn’t had the benefit of grandparents in my life, or any seniors, for that matter. I’m glad to say that now I revel in the storytelling of our Elders.

    • Hi Laura,

      Yes, I know what you mean about feeling uncomfortable around seniors. I very much prefer the idea of Elders. These students were very comfortable. I had to smile at how sometimes we older folks like to help a bit too much instead of letting the younger ones explore their imagination fully–that wonderful place where growth happens. Thanks for touching in.

  3. What a lovely experience, Jamie. Thanks for sharing it with us.
    As a Grandmother, I feel so happy to be invited by my grandchildren to participate in the ordinary of their lives as well as the special – soccer games, band concerts, curiosity about how to talk a certain boy! I feel honored. I’m glad you are embracing “seniorhood” and speaking on behalf of us.
    The proposal sounds delightful. Carry on, dear one.


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