I am nearly 55 years old. In the culture of the United States, where the desired ones, the members of the “In” crowd are YOUNG, I am not sure I would have just blurted out that information. If I had been seriously trying or needing to hide my age, I might have missed a wonderful experience, one of the very special moments of my life.
The best gift I have received in several years was to discover I was just barely old enough to become part of a very special group of people, a group of Elders , a Sacred Circle of Ancient Ones, the Wise Ones, the Crones, the Grandparents.
This Circle is limited to those OVER 52 years old, for, according to the Mayan tradition, the first cycle of life is complete at 52 years, when the sun, moon, stars and earth return to exactly the same position they were in at birth, according to Margarita, who swooped into my life 10 days ago.
It was at the conclusion of a program exploring a bi-cultural celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe. As the scheduled speakers and musicians finished, from the rear of the room appeared a short substantial Mexican woman, dressed in a colorful appliquéd full skirt and traditional satin blouse, emblazoned with multi-colored embroidered flowers. Her open brown crinkled face sparkled from the intensity of her loving, laughing eyes. Entwined braids crowned her head. The energy of this woman took over the room. As she spoke, her simple words and wonderful thoughts seemed to bounce along with the rhythm of the drum beats of the indigenous dancers.
As she talked of our Mother Earth, and our responsibility to protect her, she mesmerized the audience. Especially, she told of how the older people need to remember that they are grandparents of the world, and have a holy obligation to assist in teaching and loving the children and the young people.
The response to her simple words was clear. Many in attendance wanted more from this woman. We knew we needed to share more of the simple wisdom this woman carried to us from her ancestors. Each of us had moved here to Mexico– to her country. Some of us felt more enlightened than many others of the foreign community. After all, we knew some of the language, we were thinking about and doing something about the poor, the elderly and the orphaned. We had even been congratulating each other for beginning to plan and present bicultural activities.
Suddenly, here in our midst was an opportunity to really begin to learn to about Mexico, from the inside, from the past. To learn about being the crones, the wise women, the grandmothers, the elders, the Circle of the Ancient Ones in this paradoxical Matriarchal/Macho society. And, this woman was offering it to us just as the generations of women had always learned it, by word of mouth, from another of the old ones, another of the grandmothers.
Finally today, Margarita conducted a time honored ceremony. It was a brand new experience to everyone in the room. Yet, at the same time, the ancient words and rituals spoke truths that were so familiar, maybe distantly remembered by the dozen or so foreigners . Her simple words, loving prayers and strong phrases touched the hearts and minds of the initiates, even before the completion of the translation.
“Night,” she said, “is feminine, like women of all ages, it belongs to the women, and is a symbol of women. That is why today, the day of the last winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere of this century is the perfect time for us to be here. Tonight is the longest night of the year, today we celebebrate the experience of the elders. We begin to learn and to recognize that women and men past 52 years are not old. They have special blessings, and experiences and responsibilities and much work ahead. Those less than 52 are too busy with work and family to grow wise. We are not growing old, we must share our experiences to continue to grow.
Margarita, taught the oldest woman and the oldest man to remind each person of the connection between heart and mind with the touching of eagle and condor feathers. There were prayers for the children, for the parents, for the youth, for the grandparents, and especially for the earth offered to the Great Spirit with a sacred ceremonial pipe. There were many reminders to continue to connect their hearts and minds, to think and act and work with love and for the best possible outcome for the earth.
“We are all grandparents, whether our grandchildren are born to us from our blood, or from our love,” Margarita told the group. “We all are the grandparents to all the children on the earth. All we have to do is to connect our hearts and minds, to act from love like grandparents to the children and to each other.
“Life is like a circle, a circle is a great and powerful symbol. The little children are at the east and their parents are at the west. It is right for the parents to go to the little ones, to care for them and teach them.
“The grandparents are in the north, and the youth of our world are in the south. It has always been right for the grandparents to spend time with the young people, to teach and love them. This is one of the great problems of our time, our young people NEED us. They need our love and our help.
“Do not be afraid of loving the young. That is one of the great benefits of our age. We can hug and kiss the young people without fear of misunderstandings. They NEED for us to hug and kiss them. We need it too. Open your arms to them, let them come to you. Share your experience and love with them. You give so much to so many, but forget to give your hugs and kisses.
“The Grandparents in the Circle of the Elders do not know all the wisdom. They are not teachers, on the contrary, we are all students. What we must do is share our experiences with one another. We can share our experiences as we pass the Talking Stick. The Wise Ones have many secrets and tricks for you to learn. Many of you have learned how to live, but the Ancient ones knew how and when to die.
“Here is your first lesson about learning when to die. One day Death will come knocking at your door, saying , ‘It is time for you to come with me.’ Now that you know that you are not just old, but have important work to do in the world, just tell Death, ‘Sorry, I don’t have time, tomorrow I must work with the young people’. Death will have to wait for you.”
There are no coincidences, but I feel so very blessed and honored to have been in the right place at the right time to have this very special experience, to see a part of Mexico unseen by so many. This ceremony, to come together as one of the Elders, was for me about rebirth, of new beginnings, of starting over, and especially of joining together and growing together through the sharing of knowledge and experience. For me, that has been symbolized so perfectly by the Solstice, for I know that tomorrow Father Sun is reborn and that in the coming days and months, as the sun grows and strengthens, so can I as I learn from and share the experiences of the new Sacred Circle of the Old Ones, as they meet each month during the time of the waning moon.
Margarita ended this special ceremony with a simple song using ancient words and the English for the phrase “I AM YOU AND YOU ARE ME”. Singing this song, she led the group in a serpentine dance which allowed each person to sing these words to each other person, and greet each with a kiss.
After the final greeting and kiss, she nodded her head firmly and said, “Now you know. Many of the lessons of the grandparents are games. These are good lessons to learn.”