We live in turbulent times. The impacts of climate change, bio-diversity loss and inequality are plain for all to see and only growing in scope and scale as governments struggle to acknowledge the need for long-term, global, collaborative action.

How do we engage with our children?  What are they sensing? seeing? looking forward to?

What does eldership look like in these times?

Sometime ago I turned for inspiration and guidance to Stephen Jenkinson, Orphan Wisdom. These poems, and accompanying songs, supported by Greg Hoskyns and his band, are taken from the live recording of their Dead Starling Session.

It offers a very different approach to engaging in inter-generational discourse than I hear in my town. I hope it inspires generative conversations that help all us us to hear each other and to collaborate to co-create a future for our children and theirs which inspires and nurtures them. Forever.

Fate #1: What time is it?

Hey, what time is it?

Well, it’s the Anthropocene baby.
That’s what they’re calling it.

That means that we’re the centre of it all.
That means that we got our spirit prints on everything.

And that means that wherever we go, there we are.
We can’t get away from us.
That’s what time it is.

You know, there are kids on your news feed.
They are on the steps of your city hall.
And they are at your UN.

“You have stolen our future.”
That’s what they’re saying.

You understand it?
You understand, don’t you?

They’re pretty sure that no one else knows the sky is falling.
Just them.
And it’s turning them inside out.

“Be prepared to stop.”
That’s what the sign said.
But it didn’t happen though.
So the sign’s gonna have to change.
“Be prepared to be stopped!”
We haven’t got it right.

That’s what made their world. We’re their fate.
That’s how it seems.

Now, if you’re over 45, you grew up with the idea that almost anything is possible.
If it was in the air. If you could picture it, you could do it.

Everything’s possible still, maybe.
But most of those things, there not likely now.
That’s how it is.
We’re going through it.

The kids will not submit to the scrutiny of their seniors any more.
You want to get a whiff of it all.
You’re gonna have to try this.

No more sitting across from them,
making them the object of your inquiry,
just another moral problem for you to solve.
You’re gonna have to move that chair until you are 45 degrees from them.
And you will not see them directly, clearly anymore.
But you might begin to see them truly.

Look off into the middle distance now and see if you can see the world that they see.
Not see if you can see things their way.

It’s not them, not anymore.
It’s what they’re seeing.

You’ll be floored by how much it will take.
How much courage to see it, just to let it in.

Young People, they are another country.

That’s what time it is.


Fate #2: Now


Kids figure that something has been stolen from them…
what they could have been,
what they could have had,
what they could have done.
The whole world that could have been.
The world that they imagined that we had.

Look, it’s hard to argue
All except for that future part,
Because that’s not as true as it sounds.

It’s understandable, but it isn’t so…
they never had the future they figured that we stole from them.
It wasn’t there before they were born.
We don’t have it either.
Nobody does.

You hear the teeth clenching.
You can hear the teeth gnashing.
Because that’s one of the things that kids are doing with their present.
They are burnt.
And they are blistered by the “goneness” of the future that they never had.

If we’ve stolen anything from them, then maybe, maybe, it’s their “now”.
Because “now”‘s the thing that nobody wants anymore.
It’s too messed up.

Now is an orphan.

And each day the kids are going along with that.
Not protesting it so much, as agreeing to it.
Agreeing that they’ve been stolen from.

Ah grievance, grievance, will do that to you.
Trauma on the instalment plan.

Come on now.
Being pissed does not make you wise.
Knowing who the bad guys are,
does not make it bearable or doable.

But it’s a must, doable, now.

That’s what time it is.

Fate #3: Hope


I’m sitting talking with an earth rights guy,
and he’s doing God’s work.
And we’re talking about what’s coming down that pipe.
The near future.

This is what I said.

Here’s the thing, man, the starting point now,
it’s just too late for a lot of things.
That has to be the starting point.

You can see the inertia, right.
The incremental five-year plans.
The governments opting in and opting out in the same year.
It’s not bad enough.
That’s the meter.

Now you work your ass off in the meantime.
I’ll do the same.
But bad enough is probably what you’re gonna have to wait for now.
It’s gonna have to get worse.

That’ll be the sign.

This is what he said.

You can’t tell the kids it’s too late.
It’ll kill them.
They’ll sit on the corner.
They’ll self-medicate to Oblivion.

You got to keep them engaged.
Engaged. That’s it.

Hooked. Hooked on hope.
Hope spoils your tastes for the way it is.
It spoils you from the work that’s just what it does.

Nobody hopes for the way it is,
They hope for the way it isn’t.
Yeah, hopes got that future problem.

If you want the kids to vote for you.
You can tell them it’s not too late.
You can’t do that if you respect them.

So there’s no hope? he says.
Exactly I say.
There’s no hope.
None that’s worth the trouble.
There is no hope that’s worth giving up this present of ours for.

So wait, the only way to mobilise kids is to guarantee the future
or scare them silly with Doom.
There isn’t anything else.

Now hear this.
As soon as you demonstrate the capacity to carry weight
you get weighed down.

See that’s fate.

When there’s finally no hope left.
That’s when you have to leave a scent in the air of what some people did in the time of trouble like this.
Because the people to come, they’re going to need that.
They’re going to need to know that they come from people who were worthy of coming from.

You do not hope that you will be worthy.
You get worthy.

That’s what time it is.

Stephen Jenkinson

Orphan Wisdom is the home of Stephen Jenkinson’s writing and teaching work. Orphan Wisdom is a teaching house for the skills of deep living and making human culture. It is a redemptive project that comes from where we come from. It is rooted in knowing history, being claimed by ancestry, working for a time we won’t see.

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