Now I'm getting the chance to read books I didn't have time for before. Think of me whenever you see the slogan "So many books, so little time!" Now I've got the time.  Cheers, Fred.

On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity & Getting Old

Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
August 2018
Fred's Rating: 
Parker J. Palmer
Total Pages: 

Parker J. Palmer is founder and senior partner emeritus of the Center for Courage & Renewal and author of ten books. His work has been recognized with thirteen honorary doctorates and with the William Rainey Harper Award. (For his books I’ve read, click on his name.)

The Amazon website for the hardcover edition is

[None of the ISBN-10, ISBN-13, or ASIN numbers on Amazon’s websites for the three editions (Kindle, hardcover, or paperback) are recognized by Amazon, thus the ‘no image Circle' appears. I think this new change by Amazon is not good. However, you can see the images of this book's covers at the website above.]

The home page has a good summary; it includes the titles of the book’s chapters (click on ‘Read more). Further down the home page is an expanded Biography. For a detailed review of this book, I recommend the Top customer reviews by Caryl Hurtig Casbon (click on ‘Read more’ to get all of it) and by David Laden, who briefly gives four key features of this book.

Using Amazon’s ‘Look inside’ option gives you the Kindle edition’s information that is used also for the hardcover edition. Scrolling down past the several words of praise there is a list of his previous nine books. I’ve read all except The Heart of Higher Education. The 4-pp ‘With Gratitude’ has an introductory paragraph followed by acknowledgments of many persons. The 10-pp Prelude is well worth reading but the Amazon preview ends just before he tells important details – comments on each of the book’s seven views. I give them next after a lead-in quotation that comes just before his seven prism views; [Any comments by me are in square brackets.]:

“The book is not a ‘guide to’ or ‘handbook for’ getting old. Instead, it’s me turning the prism on my experience of ageing as a way of encouraging readers to do the same thing with theirs. We need to reframe aging as a passage of discovery and engagement, not decline and inaction.” [Read these words again, for they are simple but critical for understanding what he has done in this book.]

“Since we’re all aging all the time – if we’re lucky – I hope the book will resonate not only with my age-mates but with people not yet certifiably old. After all, there are young people whom we rightly call ‘old souls.’ I think, for example, of my twenty-seven-year-old granddaughter, Heather Palmer, who is also one of my best friends. The journey we’ve shared since the day she was born has opened my eyes, mind, and heart to so much.

“I turn the prism seven times in the course of these pages, refracting my experience of aging in a different light with each turn:

“I – The View from the Brink: What I Can See from Here probes some things I’m learning as I age, especially the importance of keeping my eyes open to the experience and asking the right questions about it.

“II – Young and Old: The Dance of the Generations focuses on creative engagement with the young. When young and old are connected like the poles of a battery, the power that’s released enlivens both parties and helps light up the world.

“III – Getting Real: From Illusions to Reality reflects on the spiritual life, which I understand as an endless effort to penetrate illusion and touch reality – a vital task at any age and an imperative for aging well.

“IV – Work and Vocation: Writing a Life is about the voice that calls to many of us, saying, ‘Whatever your paid work may be, this is what gives you life’ – the voice that has long said to me, ‘Write!’ As we age, it’s important to get clear to the difference between the jobs by which we make a living and the callings, or vocations, by which we make meaning. Many elders leave or lose their jobs. But it’s possible to follow a calling to the end of life, and continue to make meaning at a time when it’s much needed.

“V – Keep Reaching Out: Staying Engaged with the World makes a case for the importance of elders never ceasing to care about our shared world, and acting on what we care about – if only in our minds and hearts and via words spoken to people close at hand.

“VI – Keep Reaching In: Staying Engaged with Your Soul is about the centrality of inner work done in silence and solitude. Knowing yourself and sinking your roots into the ground of your being are critical in old age. Being comfortable with silence and solitude can ease the final transition from life to death – a journey we must make alone back into the silence from which we came.

“VII – Over the Edge: Where We Go When We Die answers the age-old question, ‘What happens to us after death?’ My original marketing plan was simple: ‘Want the answer? Buy the book.’ But my publisher nixed that idea – something about truth in advertising. I’ll simply say that, after reading Chapter VII, you’ll know where heaven is, though I may be a little off with the latitude and longitude.

“Welcome to the brink of everything. It takes a lifetime to get here, but the stunning view and the bracing breeze in your face make it worth the trip.”

This tenth book by Parker J. Palmer combines seven very special and uplifting prisms through which simple ‘twists’ of his mind and memories ‘refracts’ different spectra of his life. Through reading, and rereading it as I did, we are asked to use our own prisms on our own minds and memories to contemplate who we have been and to think hard of who we plan to be as we become older. This book is indeed a treasure. It summarizes much of the messages his earlier books offered. And it focuses on what these messages mean as he is ‘getting old.’ I rate his tenth book at five stars, but I add my comment: think six stars!