Celebrating the Elders

What is an elder? That's the question a close friend asked me when I told her about the Elders Christmas Dinner hosted last week by the American Indian College Fund. "It's a blessing to help serve the meal," I said. "There were over 200 Indian elders there, from dozens of different tribes." My friend lowered her head shyly and asked, "What's an elder?" Her question made me ponder how we treat elders in the dominant culture of which I am a part. She knew, of course, what an elder was but not in the context of a special event held strictly to honor our elders.

The dinner was a special affair, but not a serious one (it's hard to be too serious with 200 adults eagerly awaiting the arrival of both dinner, and Santa). "If you're over 55," said emcee John Gritts, "please have a seat and a youngster (anyone under 55) will bring you your food."

The day after the Elders Dinner, Rick Williams, president of the American Indian College Fund, sent a thank you note to those who had helped. In the note, he shared something he had written several years ago about elders, and he gave me his permission to share it here:

"Tunkashila, Grandfather, Great Spirit. It is this way that we begin our prayers in Lakota. Tunkashila also means one's own grandfather. The reason that the words are used this way is because our Grandfathers are the Elders of the Tribe and in many ways personify the sacredness of the goodness and wisdom of the Great Spirit.

"Our Elders teach us who are ancestors were. Our Elders are our connection to everything in our past. It is with their knowledge that we understand how we fit into the World. Every Grandmother and Grandfather are sacred in many special ways. It is because of this that we will always 'Respect our Elders.' Hau, Mitaku Oyasin."

I'll bet a lot of you already have special traditions for your elders. Maybe, every holiday celebration, your family also serves the elders first? Maybe your children have been taught to wait until their grandparents are seated, before seating themselves? Maybe your children read holiday stories to their grandparents? If so, wonderful!

I think I will start compiling a list of all the literary elders who have appeared in the books I love. Maybe even a list of the literary elders who have written the books I cherish. Like the old fisherman Santiago in Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea? Or the aged Wang Lung and O-lan at the end of Pearl Buck's The Good Earth. The list is endless. If you have some favorites of your own, leave a comment here with their titles. We'll grow a list together!

I'll end this holiday note with blessings for the New Year, and by sharing one of my favorite photos from the 2009 River Writing and Sculpting Journey - Lorilyn celebrating on party night with her 80-year-young mother, Lorraine. You can't help but smile!

Thank you to Jaime Aguilar and the American Indian College Fund for use of the dinner photos.

Read The Denver Post article by Tina Griego.


Cinny said…
One of my favorite literary elders was Penelope Fitzgerald, an English novelist who began her career in 1977 at age 58 and over the next twenty-five years of her life she won both the Booker and the National Critics Award. Her most famous novel was "The Blue Flower" but my favorite was a quirky story about a theater school for child actors called "At Freddies."

Her books are more like novellas and no two are the same.
Anonymous said…
Here's the beginning of my list of literary elders, Page:
1. HENRY CAMERON--elder architect, and advisor to Howard Roark, architect-hero of Ayn Rand's novel, THE FOUNTAINHEAD (called by a reviewer "the first novel of ideas by an American woman")
2. HUGH AKSTON, American philosopher in Rand's last novel, ATLAS SHRUGGED
3. YODA, eldest living Jedi knight, in George Lucas' movie, RETURN OF THE JEDI
6. MARIAH MCGONIGLE and ALBUS DUMBLEDORE, professor-mentors of J. K. Rowling's HARRY POTTER

From Eric Schneider, La Junta, CO
Alice Liles said…
I would have to add Granma and Granpa from "The Education of Little Tree" by Forrest Carter to that list of elders. Such a deceptively simple book with so much wisdom in it. And I will always look up to Atticus Finch in "To Kill A Mockingbird."
Melanie Mulhall said…

Thank you for this post about the elders. I'm an elder, myself, these days, but it has been those who have gone before me in life that I have come to value for their wisdom, common sense, and life lessons.

I'm with Eric where Yoda is concerned. Also, an elder written about by Mehl-Madrona who I'm blessed to call sister and from whom I have learn much is Marilyn Youngbird.

All the best in 2010!

Melanie Mulhall
Cinny, thank you for the reminder about Penelope Fitzgerald's literary legacy. I haven't read THE BLUE FLOWER, but will!
Alice, despite the controversy occasionally surrounding THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE, it is one of my favorites.
Eric, thank you for this great list! And for including Yoda!
Page Lambert said…
Melanie, I was familiar with Marilyn Youngbird but not with the work of Mehl-Madrona. Thanks for adding them to the list.

Popular posts from this blog

Celtic Blood, Cherokee Blood, and Nature's Earthly Spirits

The Moral Dilemma of My Mother's Mink: Earning Our Place in the World

Why Vultures Lie in Wait, and Deepak Chopra’s Law of Least Effort