What I have learned so far – Be ignited, or be gone.

What I Have Learned So Far:
by Mary Oliver

Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I
not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,
looking into the shining world? Because, properly
attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.
Can one be passionate about the just, the
ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit
to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.

All summations have a beginning, all effect has a
story, all kindness begins with the sown seed.
Thought buds toward radiance. The gospel of
light is the crossroads of — indolence, or action.

Be ignited, or be gone.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Mary Oliver, age 81 inspires young and old with her poetry.

A private person by nature, and born in a small town in Ohio, Oliver published her first book of poetry in 1963 at the age of 28; No Voyage and Other Poems.  As a young woman Mary Oliver lived for several years at the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay in upper New York state. Over the course of her long and illustrious career, Oliver has received numerous awards including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984.

As Mary Oliver has entered elderhood, she maintains her fiery passion  for life, and continues to write poetry that inspires all ages. Now at age 81, Oliver has published “Upstream”, a book of essays that provides deep insights and delightful anecdotes as she examines her role as a writer, reader and a spiritual seeker who constantly practices what she describes as the redemptive art of true effort.

As I work with young people and older people considering a career in eldercare,  many tell me how passionate they are about the opportunities to support the continued growth and purpose of  elders that we are honored to learn from and with.   The very nature of caring rituals: washing others, holding others, feeding others and dressing others – is intentional, intimate, and sacred work requiring a code of ethics, dignity, respect, empathy, intelligence and kindness.  The work of  supporting elders with these physical acts allows them  to focus on self-actualization and spiritual and emotional growth, so they may harvest their legacy and wisdom for future generations.

And I remember Mary Oliver’s words when talking to those who have chosen eldercare as a career.  Can one be passionate about the just, the ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.”    This is hard work, important work, human work – inspiring courageous efforts.

The work of upholding the ideals of a person-centered, elder-directed culture requires leaders and care team members  with the passion, the skills,  and the willingness to put their hearts and hands into the work.

Elderhood is about the gifts that age bestows; gifts unique to those who have lived long enough to have learned much of what life is all about, and remain curious about what’s yet to come.   All of us are elders, or elders-in-waiting! We are defining our own future elderhood.  Let us now passionately promote  and embrace a culture that encourages the wisdom of elders to guide us.   Let us ignite, or be gone.


11062337_10206528118188840_645394201235573404_nAbout the Author:    Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living.  Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada.

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