Fall
 2007

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Books from Authors on a Second Journey

by Barbara Kammerlohr

Every day, more of us choose the life-enhancing path of aging consciously. At least, that is the message we can take away from the recent surge in books on the topic. Below is a selection that came to our attention as we prepared for the fall issue of Itineraries. All of the books have models of vibrant individuals, finding happiness and their own authentic selves during the Autumn of life.


LEAP!: What Will We Do With the Rest of Our Lives,
Reflections from the Boomer Generation

by Sara Davidson

Random House, 2007

Like many who embark on their Second Journey, Sara Davidson began with a crisis. LEAP is both a chronicle of that journey and an entertaining source of information about issues related to aging. In her fifties, Davidson’s life seemed to unravel. Her partner of many years moved on; her children left for college; she could no longer find meaningful work. This was the time when the former television producer (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) and best-selling author (Loose Change, Cowboy, and Real Property) could not find her way. She explored ageism in the work place, but soon realized that deep inside her psyche, a call to embark on her Second Journey was asserting itself. This spokeswoman for the Boomer generation responded to the call by exploring ways to make the journey in style and good spirit.

LEAP! is a chronicle of that exploration. Following the path that served her so well during her professional life, Davidson does her own research on the aging process: interviewing others on the same journey, reading, consulting friends, traveling, and exploring her own inner process. Herself a member of the “boomer generation,” she sought insight into how the vanguard was “learning to walk down the ladder gracefully”. Some of her lessons included:

  1. “There is a new stage of life after and before 80… Everyone must pass through this territory, through the narrows…and, if you don’t do it voluntarily, the world or your body will force you.”
  2. “This stage of life requires a different approach, listening, surrendering and letting things unfold.” Davidson quotes Marion Woodman, the Jungian author who “believes the soul’s voice and urging become imperative as we get older.” It speaks in a voice with increasing volume, “I want, before I die, to find out who I am in my soul and who that soul is in relation to the Divine.”
  3. A new relationship with work is required. “The imperative at this time is not to find the right job or a replacement job, but to align yourself with your purpose, with the truth you’ve come to recognize about yourself. These are the years of the creative process—creating solely for the joy and challenge of the process.
  4. Living in communities “where we can take care of each other or have people take care of us…is bound to happen”.

Visit Sara Davidson's website at saradavidson.com/

These are indeed complex and perhaps heavy issues. However, the book also has an entertaining quality. By sharing her fun-filled and sometimes adventurous journey, Davidson gives us a hint that our own journey could also become more of an enjoyable adventure.

Her description of watching the surgical procedure known as “face lift” was compelling. Perhaps it was graphic enough to prevent some of us from even considering that avenue. Even the reasons many gave for undergoing, or not undergoing, the process (if not always rational) were worth reading.

Most readers will enjoy reading about the experiences she had while exploring housing options in Costa Rica. Her ride in pouring rain over the rough terrain of that country’s coastal mountains to look at property proved this woman was serious about learning everything she could. Both her adventure in Costa Rica and her exploration of the co-housing movement were not only humorous, but they evoked other ideas for living an interesting and creative life during “retirement” years. Most readers will not have the financial freedom Davidson and her friends enjoy, but her reporting stimulates thoughts about what could be done with less money.

Probably the most poignant part of the book was Davidson’s emotional response to her “vacation with purpose” in India. She and six other Americans paid $1,600 to donate their time to teach at the “Grace and Flower Home for Low Caste Children.”  Mosquitoes, interpersonal problems with other volunteers, and living conditions far below the standard to which she was accustomed all conspired to bring this wealthy American author to her knees. In tears, she called a wise friend in New York. “”India doesn’t always give you what you want,” the friend counseled. “It gives you what you need.”

For looking for areas to explore during one's own Second Journey, LEAP! is a good start. Davidson tells great stories, and her own journey was a genuine one. The book is full of resources one can explore, and perhaps use, to create an adventure of life. The “Notes” and “Resources” section in the back of the book provide contact information and web addresses for places she visited and individuals whom she quoted.

Some reviewers have noted that Davidson is a woman of monetary privilege and most of the people she interviewed fell into the same category. However, for readers who are just beginning the journey and whose basic economic needs are met, LEAP! suggests plenty of avenues of exploration that hold promise and are not financially prohibitive.


Old Age in a New Age: The Promise of Transformative Nursing Homes
by Beth Baker

Vanderbilt University Press, 2007

One of the most profound promises of change in the way we age in America is the transformation of nursing homes. To report on that transformation, Beth Baker visited more than two dozen places “where people with physical or mental frailties live not as wards, patients or inmates, but as contributing, creative human beings.” Through stories of the lives of both elders and caregivers, she demonstrates the profound effect the changing culture can have on the lives of both groups.

Baker’s call for radical change,  which echoes that of several visionaries, advocates transformation by giving staff more responsibility and offering residents a say in what happens to them. It is an important call to all of us because hers is simply a vision of what can be. However, she cautions:

 

 

Visit Beth Baker's website at bethbaker.net

Only a concerted push by society will undo half a century of institutional culture. The public must demand change—not only those whose loved ones move to a nursing home, but also, elders themselves in retirement communities and in advocacy groups; citizens, by becoming active in statewide culture-change coalitions; volunteers, by breaking down barriers and forming real relationships with elders.

This book is a call to action. If life is to be different for us in our final years, we must leave behind our denial of the aging process and act with “enlightened self-interest.”

Baker is a Baby Boomer, former hospital worker, a freelance journalist, and a regular contributor to the Washington Post Health Section and the AARP Bulletin. She is the winner of two Gold National Mature Media Awards for her reporting on aging.


Autumn Years: Taking The Contemplative Path
by Robert and Elizabeth M. King
Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004

This is  primarily the love story of two people who first met in childhood, but reconnected and fell in love as they entered life’s Autumn years. Both were already on a “spiritual journey,” meditating as well as doing Christian contemplative practices. The story of their lives as they grow old together is warm and inspiring. Their reflections on using contemplative practice to enhance intimacy, relationships (including friends and extended family), and the process of self discovery are helpful.

Visit the Baker's website at autumnyears.org

This story of romance and marriage is also interspersed with inspiration and advice about using contemplative practice to explore more deeply one’s own self. There are stories of visits to Zen monasteries in the Orient and Christian retreat centers in the United States. The authors refer to a number of helpful practices throughout the book, and there is one short section explaining four kinds of meditation: sitting meditation, centering prayer, walking meditation, and lovingkindness meditation.

This is the book for those seeking insight on the inner life that calls to most of us as we continue this Second Journey.