I don’t know how I have lived this long without reading something written by Parker J. Palmer. He has written several books and is the founder of something called the Center for Courage and Renewal.
One title kept popping up on other blogs and I felt compelled to get a copy. The title is On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old.
In this, his most recent book, Palmer notes that he will be nearly 80 when it is published, and confesses that he likes being old. He then states the following:
Age brings diminishments, but more than a few come with benefits. I’ve lost the capacity for multitasking, but I’ve rediscovered the joy of doing one thing at a time. My thinking has slowed a bit, but experience has made it deeper and richer. I’m done with big and complex projects, but more aware of the loveliness of simple things: a talk with a friend, a walk in the woods, sunsets and sunrises, a night of good sleep.
Throughout this book is an overriding theme of feeling grateful for the gift of life.
As I contemplate my own aging, I resonate so much with this beautiful writing! I still have a very busy, full life, but I am learning to live it one moment at a time – taking the time to find joy and pleasure in the moments. When I was younger, I was incapable of this attitude. Life seemed to be pressing in so much more seriously.
At my age, I can hold things more lightly, squeeze the blessings and joy out of them, then gratefully move on to the next adventure life presents to me.
Palmer goes on to say, “We need to reframe aging as a passage of discovery and engagement, not decline and inaction.”
As I read this passage, I reflected on the sense of panic I felt when my husband retired a few years ago at a relatively young age. I had been busy raising 4 children and he had been busy nurturing a career. When both of those pursuits came to an end, a few months of lounging and napping gave way to a desire to reengage with the world and with life on our own terms instead of the scripts we had been following for most of our lives.
He went into consulting work, where he can accept or refuse jobs. I went back to practicing law in a very focused practice (criminal defense), while simultaneously nurturing my writing career.
“Work” feels different now. Maybe because it’s by choice. Or maybe the work has chosen us. Regardless, the perspective of age makes it so much more enjoyable.
Another major discussion in the book is the idea of letting go. Many of us of a certain age have begun to downsize. Personally, I want to travel light because I want to travel!
Palmer says, “The junk I really need to jettison in my old age is psychological junk – such as longtime convictions about what gives my life meaning that no longer serve me well.”
I have certainly jettisoned a lot of junk in recent years! Old ideas about family life, children, aging, and marriage have been challenged. When life is changing around you, you have a choice: You can buck up against it and be miserable and bemoan what used to be, or you can be open to embracing something new.
Palmer encourages us to ask, “”What do I want to let go it, and what do I want to give myself to?”
When life strips away roles and relationships, it is a privilege to engage in what makes our lives meaningful and purposeful. Instead of continuing in activities that might no longer fulfill us, we can give ourselves to the things that really make our heart sing.
This little book is one I will return to time and time again on this journey of aging. It is well-underlined and dog-eared and well worth the read.