The Odyssey of Aging: From Hero to Elder

“All sickness is homesickness.” Chinese Proverb

Imagine for a few moments that you have been a seaman all your life who used wooden oars to row and steer you through your early and mid-life years. You have also been a warrior and fought your share of battles—won some, lost some. You’re strong from rowing your craft but you have spent so many years away from your true home. After struggling, striving, and scraping you finally do get home, but the journey has left you tired, a little wrinkled, and grayer than when you began.

Now further imagine a blind seer knocks on your door and says you have to make one last journey before you can really settle in. You are of course excited to get your oar and get back to your boat, go see other distant lands, slay a few more giants, and have more great mid-life heroic adventures.

But much to your chagrin the seer says, “You will not go back to sea, oh no; you will take your best, well-crafted oar and walk so far inland until you reach a country where the people have never seen the sea, have never tasted salt and know nothing about ships, boats, or sailing vessels of any kind. You will know you’re at the right spot when you meet a stranger; who seeing the oar on your shoulder will ask you why you’re carrying a winnowing fan? (Note a farmer’s winnowing fan is something that creates wind to separate the wheat from the chaff.) At this point, you will halt and plant your oar firmly in the earth and make sacrifices to the gods and only then you can really go home.”

If we can connect, understand, and relate to the story of Odysseus and the Odyssey, we can enter elderhood a little more gracefully and gently, and if not, good luck trying to be a hero at 50, 60, 70, or 80.

I am making a case for Elderhood, not for easy agedness.” Stephen Jenkinson—Come of Age