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Under the best of circumstances, growing older represents a disruption of how things used to be. Any day can bring with it the potential to be confronted with the fact that we do not have the power to make things go back the way they were. But November 8, 2016 was not a day like any other--an occasion of individual crisis. It was societal, impacting us all. Never before have there been so many of us at one time struggling with both individual and societal disillusionment--close to half of Boomers, after all, voted Democratic. In addition, there were Boomers who voted for third parties, opted out entirely, or went for Trump as a protest vote never expecting him to win. In the wake of this election, it is clear that our country needs our wise elders more than ever. More than this, we who have lived long and well must become the wise elders. But how shall we accomplish this when at the same time, we feel so disoriented?

Indeed, it seems just moments ago when we had been expecting to enjoy these culminating years in a world of affirmation. We may not have known it before the election, but we have taken many things for granted, not the least of which was the nature of our democracy and the durability of the legacy we thought we were leaving future generations. We didn’t expect this late in life to find ourselves living in a new world, without a map. Many of us are sad, scared, confused, angry even ashamed. Under these conditions, it can be tempting to allow fear, even that born of righteous anger, to drive us to premature conclusions and knee-jerk reactivity. Others may feel the urge to retreat into a romanticized spirituality, one that confuses hiding and denial with understanding and acceptance. When does the desire for reconciliation become quiescence? As theologian John B. Cobb Jr. warns: “One can choose harmony over intensity, thus reverting to a more trivial existence in order to avert discord.” How shall we help others navigate this new world when we feel lost?

As editor of Fierce with Age: The Digest of Boomer Wisdom, Inspiration and Spirituality, I turned to the elders who have come before us to point the way. Some of what they have to tell us may surprise you, some may disturb you, but all carry the greatest gift age can offer any of us: Hope.

"While our elders enjoin us to act for the greatest good despite the odds, they also teach us to be patient with our pain."
Writes Sister/author Joan Chittister: "Struggle is the great crossover moment of life. It never leaves us neutral. It demands that we make a choice: either we dig down deep into the wellspring that is our innermost selves and go on beyond where we were, despite where we were, or we simply give up, stop in our tracks rooted to the spot, up to our ankles in bitterness and despair, satisfied to be less than all our personal gifts indicate that we are being called to be…"

While our elders enjoin us to act for the greatest good despite the odds, they also teach us to be patient with our pain. We cannot rebuild broken hope lest we mix loss, humiliation, powerlessness and uncertainty, into the straw and mud, along with courage and compassion.

Only by admitting to the crumbling of the illusion of our mastery and taking into account what we now understand to be the truth about human nature can we begin the critical work of providing a stronger basis upon which a more authentic future can be built.

"I am ashamed to admit to myself that I am disappointed in humanity. Nothing less. That is the ache that lies behind other aches. Not disappointed in this beautiful world...but somehow broken-hearted at the incorrigibility of man…” writes Jungian analyst Florida Scott-Maxwell in The Measure of My Days when in her eighties, fifty years ago. “The ordeal of being true to your own inner way must stand high in the list of ordeals… It is not easy to be sure that being yourself is worth the trouble, but we do know it is our sacred duty.”

Pointing us towards the way to our sacred duty is the philosopher William James, who wrote: “Much of what we call evil…can so often be converted into a bracing and tonic good by a simple change of the sufferer’s inner attitude from one of fear to one of fight; Its sting so often departs and turns into relish when, after vainly seeking to shun it, we agree to face about and bear it.” And Pearl Buck, in her Voices in the House echoes the call to action: “Against the tyranny of the inferior man, the superior man also has the right to be free…For good people to feel pain and to take action against the inferior is the hope of humanity.”

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