Advice From Wise Elders About Navigating the Pandemic
Sage advice from spiritual teachers about how to steer through the pandemic
Posted Jul 18, 2020
At the start of the pandemic, I had a dream in which I was on a big yacht sailing across the Atlantic when it broke down in mid-ocean. A helicopter was dispatched to rescue us, and it was piloted by an elderly man.
In working to interpret the dream, it struck me that we’re (appropriately ) expending a great deal of effort protecting and even avoiding the elderly during the pandemic. But it may be that elders are key to helping us weather it—and the turbulent times in which it’s emerged, and which it’s amplified—given that they have (at least theoretically, developmentally) something all of us need right now: wisdom. Perhaps especially the wisdom to know the difference between what we can change and what we can’t.
It’s the kind of wisdom that comes from having been around awhile, having lived through wars and depressions, pogroms and pandemics, gains and losses over and over again. In other words, they’re more emotionally experienced in managing disruption, being resourceful and resilient. So maybe we should spend less time avoiding them and more time asking for their advice.
Below, then, is some sage advice from a variety of elders on how we can steer our course through this unprecedented event, hailing from the arenas of art, literature, psychology, media, philosophy, and spirituality.
“Part of the work, the calling now, is to stand really respectfully before how very unsettling and stressful this is.” —Krista Tippett, Host of NPR’s On Being podcast
“I’m in a high-risk category, being 81, but I’m learning about millions of people around the planet who are in a high-risk category every day of their lives—not because of age or health, but because of race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or poverty. They live in non-stop pandemics of racism, sexism, nationalism, homophobia, structural economic inequality, and armed conflict. I now have a tiny window to glimpse a bit of their experience for a little while. May I learn all I can, and may my learning stick.” —Parker Palmer, Author of Let Your Life Speak and Healing the Heart of Democracy
“We’re in the midst of a highly teachable moment. We have a chance to go deep, and to go broad. Depth is being forced on us by great suffering, which as I like to say, always leads to great love. But for God to reach us, we have to allow suffering to wound us. Now is no time for an academic solidarity with the world. Real solid