Time and Eldership: A Necessary Pause


Donna Sinclair, a retired journalist for more than 30 years, is an award-winning writer who has travelled widely. Photo © Liz Lott

by Donna Sinclair

Last night three of us enjoyed a pleasant, pre-meeting chat while we waited for the fourth member of our little church committee to show up. She didn’t. She had forgotten that we had a meeting.

I was secretly rather pleased. Our missing member has recently retired. I too am retired, a little longer. And I too missed meetings in the most uncharacteristic way. Ergo, I said to myself (even as we welcomed her to our midst via speakerphone) this is not so much a flaw as a given. I am not alone.

Something happens when we move from one phase of our lives to another: the adrenalin that always propelled us through the door and into animated discussion has dissipated; or perhaps our memory has dampened a bit; or – and this is the reason I like – perhaps something else is going on in our heads, something important, and we need to consider it carefully.

Sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot noted this phenomenon in those moving into what she calls, in her book of that title, The Third Chapter. Those who had been purposeful seemed to need to drift. She describes, for instance, one highly productive professor who began to play online poker for hours each day, feeling “the need,” in Lawrence’s words, to “to slow down, to enjoy the laziness, and to relish the idea of wasting time.”

I believe that what my friend and I are experiencing is a necessary pause before the next stage – the stage of eldership – begins. Recalibration is needed. (Or as my five-year-old grandson murmurs when he is thinking hard “loading…loading…” )

New purpose is going to come into our lives. But we are not in charge of deciding what it will be.  We can only wait and – like those ten longsuffering virgins Jesus describes in Matthew 25 – try to stay alert in order to welcome it.

In the meantime, we go about our lives. Our meeting went well. We accomplished more that what we had hoped, and reassured our extraordinarily competent friend of her wisdom. (It’s not wisdom that temporarily deserts us, it is our singleness of mind at a time when diffuseness of mind is required.)

After that, eased out of any need to be productive, we sat and talked. Perhaps the loss of our super-organized sheen allowed us to be more vulnerable to one another, because we met at a deeper level than any time before. Our souls were visible.

Now I have learned how to set an alarm on my computer. I make a note in my calendar and, a day ahead, I get a firmly-worded email from myself reminding me of the event. On the morning in question, a sweetly old-fashioned alarm clock pops up on my screen, ringing. Finally, another, noisier, alarm sounds just in time for me to get my coat on and get out the door.

I haven’t missed any meetings lately. Oh – and my new sense of purpose? You’ll be hearing about that. Watch this space.

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Categories: Aging, Donna Sinclair, Uncategorized

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7 Comments on “Time and Eldership: A Necessary Pause”

  1. muriel duncan
    November 1, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    So perceptive, so comforting, so wise. So Donna.
    But so far I’m afraid my drifts are giving my new sense of purpose a hard time.

    • November 2, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

      Hey.. you haven’t been retired for very long… You’re still allowed to drift for quite awhile yet!

  2. Lynne Phillips
    November 21, 2011 at 10:50 pm #

    Donna, have you seen the web site http://www.northbaynipissing.com/2011/11/authors-help-celebrate-gulliver%E2%80%99s-25-year-anniversary/

    I do look a bit silly, which is probably why the journalist chose this photo rather than others she was taking! The woman in the pumpkin hat is me and you are you – Donna Sinclair.

    I was in NB on a visit and went to your launch and bought your book. My daughter who lives in North Bay gave me a few of the other books you wrote. I really like your 365 meditation book The Long View: an Elderwoman’s Book of Wisdom. I am quoting it in the Quaker Crones blog that I created.

    My older daughter teaches English literature in NB at Nipissing University. However my younger daughter Holly Phillips is also an author and she is appearing at Nip.U on Thursday Nov. 24. Go to http://www.nipissingu.ca/ to see a photo of her and why some grant paid her way to NB for a visit.

    Here’s hoping that you might be in Victoria, BC sometime for a book launch! Or something else.

  3. November 30, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    Hi Lynne — yes I saw that photo ..glad to hear from you, and I am going to look up the Quaker Crones blog.. it sounds wonderful. Quakers and crones. Two of my favourites in one place!

    • Lynne
      December 2, 2011 at 6:29 pm #

      The Quaker Crone blog is private for the time being. We are discussing whether we want to use it as a means for discussion among our group between meetings. Not all of the crones want to increase their use of the internet. It can be a big time thief and not every one likes to write.

      I write because that’s how I learn what I am thinking and feeling. I love the craft of words. I feel that words are very powerful change agents and precise and beautiful usage is a gift to the world. BUt plain wash ‘n wear sentences are needed too. Most of my writing is for the memory and treasure box; only some of my stories , articles, and poetry has been published. You love writing too. It’s a good way to be.

  4. Jeannine Cline
    January 24, 2012 at 10:07 pm #

    I love the particular story, and have found myself missing meetings- even though I am no where near retirement. On my days off, I have a tendency to not even wish to get dressed, but rather want to stay in my sweat pants, and yoga top- simply enjoying not having to be anywhere in particular at any particular time. So there have been moments and days even when I have forgotten that I booked something- or even anything- to go to on my days off. Thanks for sharing this. 🙂

  5. Donna
    May 20, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

    Hi Jeannine — long may you enjoy such sabbath time!

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