Monday, December 31, 2012

To Be an 'Elder' -- Seeking Wisdom; Sharing Wisdom

Susan Rona, back in Montreal

Susan Rona, a Canadian educator, dedicated her career to proving that children, especially minority children, can succeed if their teachers believe that they can. It was a mission that absorbed her entirely.  And she was at the top of her game, having been invited to present her work to the European Parliament.
Then suddenly, it was gone.
“When I found myself retired, I didn’t make a decision to retire,” explained Susan, whose native tongue, Hungarian, aided her advocacy for Roma (gypsy) children in Eastern Europe. “This large international organization and I came to a point where it was time for us to part. So I went from my professional life being in 30 countries and feeling like my job in the world was to save the world -- especially  the lives of disadvantaged minorities and create a better world for them -- to doing nothing.”
The void she faced “terrified” her.
“I remember going to parties and people saying to me, ‘What do you do?’ and I had to run out the door or burst out crying because I just couldn’t answer that question. Over time, I developed an answer, which was, “I’m in transition.”
It was a response, really. Not an answer. 
Back home in Montreal, she kept searching.
“I spent a year seeing a life coach because I realized I didn’t need a therapist. I wasn’t depressed for no reason. I was situationally depressed because I didn’t know what to do with my life.”
At one point, the coach told Susan “that he saw me in my previous life as the captain of a ship who was constantly in rough waters and negotiating rough seas but that now I was a landlocked sailor who was looking out to sea and couldn't get out there -- and didn't necessarily want to get out there -- but didn't know what to do with myself.”

“That really spoke to me.”
So Susan asked herself, as a “landlocked sailor who didn’t want to manage any more boats and didn’t want to manage any more people and didn’t want to navigate rough seas, what is it that I did want to do?”
The answer came to her on an assignment for the Canadian government in the Yukon. At a meeting of First Nations people, “I was observing this woman who was an elder in the community and she wasn’t educated. But she was incredibly wise, and all the young people were looking to her for her insight and her wisdom.
“It was at that moment that I discovered that really what I wanted to be was an elder.
She no longer wanted to manage those “rough seas” anymore, “but I did want to support other people to do it well. And I wanted to be an elder in life, helping people find their paths through some of the wisdom I had developed over time.”

For that reason, Susan went on to train to become a professional, certified life coach. (

Susan had another wise role model. Her father. And it’s timely that I publish this story now, on the anniversary of his death, two years ago.

“Maybe watching and experiencing my wonderful father age with the grace that he had and seeing how he could lose his ability to walk, he could lose his ability to move, he could lose his independence and yet still remain such a powerful soul, who gave so much to everybody. The fact that I spent the last five years of my life before he died having him as the center, the core of my existence, I learned a lot. So I aspire to be a wise elder.”
No longer, says Susan, does she need to be famous or successful or make money.

“I don’t need any of that. All I want is to live in a way that I will have no regrets, giving to those whom I love and to those who I don’t necessarily love but can help. So I can support them through some of what I’ve learned.”

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