The Old People’s Road
Photo Credit: DANIELLE SHIRLEY
The Old People’s Road
from Perry Robinson
Navajo elders have earned the respect that younger people give them because of their long life of hard work and learning.As Monster Slayer cleared the world of angry, destructive creatures, he decided to let four types of monsters remain because they would be helpful as a reminder of important things.One of the four was the Old Age People.They told Monster Slayer to spare them, arguing that men and women should not remain young forever, but mature each day to the point where they will need to pass away to make space for the next generation. Also, by becoming older they will return full circle to the point when they were first born, helpless and dependent on others.Ideally, 102 years will mark the time when their life has finished and they return to the earth.Until then, they will walk the Old People’s Road.
It begins halfway through life around the age of fifty.The body starts to slow down, not every part works as well as it used to, white hair grows on the crown of the head, and people notice that they are now stepping onto a different path—the Old People’s Road.It is Old Age’s way of showing that they are becoming elders.At the end of the road is the Old People’s Home, not like a nursing home in today’s society, but a place of peace and rest in a spiritual realm.
Until that time, however, there are things to do and ways to act.Prayers change as one asks, “Be good to me to the last day.Let me have my eyes.Let me have my ears to the end.I am praying for all of these good things.Help me to continue to walk until I go to the Old People’s Home in the heavens.”That is how one talks and prays about this stage in life.However, people also understand that “you will only walk on the Old People’s Road and go to their home if you are a good person and learn to take care of yourself.If not, you will die young with black hair and will never know what it is to be an elder.”The foolishness and chance-taking of a young person must be left behind.
To be on the Old People’s Road one must plan and be careful.“It is always caring about where you are and knowing what could happen.Think twice before doing something and have a backup plan.”A cane, like a fire poker for a young woman, becomes an object that gives honor and respect to the elder using it. Life is lived step by step. As with the physical body, there are also changes in attitude.An elder acts with love and caring; everything is gradual, more gentle, and kinder.This is a good thing as one moves towards peace and rejects things that are harmful.A young person, on the other hand, has power, energy, and is anxious about aspects of life.“His spirit is different.It is all about attitude, about challenges, and life’s adventures which can sometimes be fierce and new and powerful.”
To grandchildren their grandmothers and grandfathers become the holy ones, helping and leading the young along a path of safety.They share wisdom and teachings
that keep youth away from trouble, and when the elders speak, it is like the holy wind, warning of danger and guiding to things that are good.Elders
should take the opportunity to do this, but youth must have a desire to listen.Rather than dwelling upon the problems of old age—and there can
be many—elders now look at it as a chance to share their experiences and help those who have questions or face difficulties.Families who share
this kind of respect, one for another, find peace along the Old People’s Road.
I am Perry Robinson my clans is Edge Water born for Nakaii’dine. I am from Pinon Arizona born and raised there. I finished high school at Intermountain H.S. in Brigham City Utah in 1974 went to school in Utah State University for a year. I got inducted into military. I was in Marines for 4 years. Worked in construction, as a Boilermaker and iron worker for some years. I slowly worked my way back into schools to get licensed in counseling grandfathered in and a license to do traditional counseling- ceremony. I worked for Navajo Nation behavioral health for 25 years as a traditional practitioner. Retired last year. Started working with UNHS. Now as traditional consultant- practitioner.
Many articles in this section were adapted from WeRNative.org, a website for Native Youth by Native Youth