if not now, when?

a few days ago, techno-impaired as i am, i engaged in a conference call held by the conscious elders network. (http://www.consciouselders.org) the topic was “dying to live”. the conversation was lively and inspiring. it ranged from memories of people who have died, to the “paperwork” needed to prepare for our own deaths, to deep philosophical insights about afterlife and religion. i was left with a deep sense of urgency, not only to put in place the last bit of “paperwork” but also to change the way we are with ageing, dying and death.

i’m driven…a mad woman on a mission.


as i lay in bed that evening, an often misquoted and misattributed jewish aphorism written by hillel the elder, came to mind.

“if i am not for myself, who will be for me? if i am not for others, what am i? and if not now, when? “

hillel the elder was born, according to tradition, in babylon c. 110 bce, and died in 10 ce in jerusalem. he lived in jerusalem during the time of king herod and the roman emperor augustus and became the spiritual leader of the jewish people.


his title “the elder” is a light shining in the doorway to elderhood. there are so many lessons i can learn about spiritual eldering from these three short sentences. needless to say, no matter what age, lessons can be learned, and yet i felt a particular poignancy and immediacy as i sat with them in that present moment.

i must be for myself, care for myself, love myself, trust and honour myself. without this energy, no one can be for me. without a sense of my value, no one else will value me. i must speak and live my truth, or lose any sense of integrity and wholeness.

and it is as a whole person that i can surrender the ego self to be for others. i can let go of the obstacles that armour my heart so that i can be of service and can listen with compassion and care. hillel asks “what am i?” not “who am i?”. what am i if i cannot be available, be willing to challenge myself when i encounter difference and difficulty, and be open to dialogue? i would be frightened, demagogic, narcissistic, unfeeling and shut down to the possibilities of relationship.

and, “if not now, when?” i have only the now. action can only take place in the now. with the strength of spiritual connection to ground me, i can act to change how we are with ageing, dying and death. while i may not live as long as hillel the elder did, i want to die as felice, an elder who contributed to a shift in consciousness.

it is also my aspiration to live and die honouring the other of hillel’s most well-known teachings…

"that which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. that is the whole torah (the jewish sacred text). the rest is the explanation. go and learn."

thank you, hillel, for what you have given the world…and to eldering.