Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.
For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.
In Ripening Time: Inside Stories for Aging with Grace, Sherry Ruth Anderson presents a new perspective on aging. In her latest book, the bestselling author of The Feminine Face of God and The Cultural Creatives invites the reader to engage the aging process through the art of inner inquiry. She guides us beyond our culture's mind traps through stories where elders face into the lies, the losses and endings, the tender and bittersweet and ferocious truths of growing old. Giving us an indispensable compass, she shows how growing into old age can be a fruition, the genuine grace and gift of human ripening.
|Publisher:||Hunt, John Publishing|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Inside Stories for Aging with Grace
By Sherry Ruth Anderson
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2013 Sherry Ruth Anderson
All rights reserved.
A Season of Ripening
When a growing season is long enough for fruits to mature, we can call it a season of ripening. Our species has entered this season now—a time when we have a never before chance to grow up beyond what most of us have barely imagined. Have you thought about this? Dreamed into it for yourself or for our common good, for the pure wisdom and lovingkindness that might develop in our world? And if you wonder about what is possible for us now, do you want to pursue the possibilities? To delve into the deep questions this ripening season opens?
Personally, I find it a great relief to dump the usual, politically correct, words for aging—elderhood, senior citizens, golden agers—and all the horrid ones I won't even bother with here—to consider the possibilities of ripening. Those other words are so stale, used up, and misused that they trap my imagination in a thousand musty certainties. So I started searching around for something fresh and finally found ripening. It's from the Old English reopan, dating back ten centuries to the root verb to reap. It lets us reframe the perspective about growing old to ask: What can we reap from a long life if we are conscious, if we pay attention, if we care?
My big Webster's that sits on its own table next to the computer reads like a guidebook to the possibilities of the ripening season. To ripen is to be fully grown and developed, as in ripe fruit and ripe wheat, it says. And also: having mature knowledge, understanding or judgment. And a third meaning: of advanced years, as in a ripe old age. And my favorite: (a) brought by aging to full flavor or the best state, mellow; and (b) smelly, stinking, as in ripe cheese.
This sums it up pretty well, don't you think? The promise—to come to our full flavor as human beings, to mature into the best possibilities of our nature. And the reality—the full flavor of living a long life isn't just mellow. It's also smelly, stinking. Growing old is an adventure, but it's no stroll through the rose garden, no "grow old along with me, the best is yet to be." Whoever believes that is living in Disneyland. To ripen—not just grow up but to keep on maturing through our entire lives—takes great courage and great vulnerability. And I guess I'd have to add, a huge dollop of grace. We can end up unripe, bitter, not able to reap the fruits of this life because overwhelming circumstances make us lose hope, or because we get tangled in our culture's stories and lies about aging. Or maybe we end up losing hope because dementia—our parents' or our partner's or our own—in one of its many dreadful forms throws a pall over all the possibilities, shutting off our curiosity and spirit for living into the truth of our life as it is unfolding.
There are no guarantees. Yet there's the likelihood for us, as there is for all of life, that we can fully mature if our possibilities are nurtured and cultivated. Ripening, in other words, is natural. We should expect it. And also, we should look with a skeptical eye on the odd but common assumption that all our growth is over by, say, thirty. I hereby throw down the gauntlet against that careless assumption. I propose that, since we do not know what reaches and dimensions of our humanity are possible as we age, we engage the question. All the questions—whatever we can discover about how we can grow old consciously. We already know too much about what diminishes—hearing, eyesight, short-term memory, speed of recall and calculation, and so on. That is not so interesting. But to consider what grows, what develops, what ripens—that, I propose, is interesting indeed!
I was feeling rather pleased with myself for finding a word like ripening. And then I spent the afternoon with my friend Jim Thomas, a white-haired Texan whom I consider to be a wise elder.
"You know," Jim said, "I think as we grow old, we're like fruit on wild trees. A lot of us stay small and hard, relatively untouched by all our years of experience, while others ripen into fullness."
I told him about an apple tree that grew in the vacant lot around the corner from my childhood home in Atlantic City. Starting in April I'd wander over every week or two to watch its pale buds blossom into frothy white flowers and then disappear for a whole month—gone!—before tiny green apples appeared. All through the summer I'd visit the tree, waiting for the apples to turn yellow so I could take a few experimental bites. But I never could eat those apples. They stayed bitter. By late October, moldy anyway, they were blown to the ground by the hard, ocean winds.
I was getting depressed remembering the apples. All that growing and in the end, crashing to the earth and rotting. Well, really, what's the point of it all?
Instead of joining my gloomy contemplations, Jim lobbed a question. "Exactly. How can we let ourselves be shaped and transformed by our experience? How do we let life ripen us if it will?"
When we talk about human accomplishments, we almost never include maturing. What interests us, in our post-modern conversations, are the heights of attainment—the best athletes, the most brilliant inventions, the greatest works of art. In more rarefied settings, we concern ourselves with the profound reaches of consciousness—a realization of unity, emptiness of self, or qualities of great compassion and wisdom.
But the question about maturity is different. It asks what is possible for all of us, for people who live a full measure of years. Before life extends to its full measure, we can only guess about its fruition. But with a long life, we have a chance to find out what we can be—to ripen into our full human development.
And we can discover another sense of ripening, too: the taste and richness of our full, juicy humanity. When I think of this kind of ripeness, certain elders come immediately to mind. I imagine it might be the same with you, if you recollect your own elders. My elders aren't paragons of perfection; they can be grouchy, sad, and frightened at times, and they can also be people of no age. What inspires me is their undivided humanness—how they are willing to be present to all that life brings—sorrow, grief, joy, emptiness, lostness, celebration, stillness—and let it deepen and transform them again and again. They make me want to live like that—wholehearted—into the breadth and length of my years.
Not all people can digest the experiences that life brings. But in this era of history, more and more of us have a chance to do so. The door is open. Invitations are arriving every day. Elders we've relied on are dying or already gone, leaving open their places in the circle. Those younger are demanding maps, asking us to share whatever truth we have to tell. If we are willing, if we have the heart to step forward, the ones who have walked before us and the ones who are coming after us are calling:
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance? Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, won't you join the dance?
So the invitation is waiting. We can either reach out and take it or turn away. I'm going to take it and I hope you will too. I don't have the map that Eve was looking for, but I can offer a compass for the soul-deep questions. I've learned a lot from my students and friends and will bring in their experiences as well. If your eye has a glint of curiosity and your heart longs to live the truth that's unfolding now, come and join the dance. Our first step will be a confrontation with one of the biggest lies our culture tells—that old age is boring!
Old Age is Boring
Why aren't all of us who are over about fifty-five intrigued by what it is like to be maturing now? I don't mean complaining or comparing notes on the best doctors or massage therapists or vitamin supplements. I mean why aren't we diving in, paying rapt attention to the depth levels of our experience?
As I ask the question, I think I know the answer. Or at least I know the first part of the answer, the first obstacle that arises to exploring the territory where ripening is possible but not guaranteed. As I began this book and very often throughout the writing, I would be interrupted by the arrival of a bossy inner commentator. Old age is boring, my would-be advisor would announce. Boring! What is the matter with you anyway? Get rid of this ridiculous preoccupation you've developed with getting old and find something you can be passionate about. What about hang gliding? Mountain biking? Tango?
My inner advisor is convinced it has the lowdown on old age. And although I hear it personally, I'm sure it is not mine alone. Its convictions are honed by our culture, supported by our friends, nurtured by memories so early they feel like the fuzzy blankets we clung to as children. Its viewpoint provides the blinders that come down just when we are starting to get real. It's the guardian at the gates that keeps us from entering the mysteries within, the chief lie that smothers our curiosity about what is possible for us now.
I have learned the power of this lie all too well in delving into the experience of growing old. Whenever I have neared an edge where fear lies or grief waits or where I stand mute or empty, the voice of this lie implores me to hurry on—not to enter the other country, explore the different game. So this, I think, is where graceful aging needs to begin. The marker at the trailhead reads: Old Age is Boring.
When Does it Start?
I wonder when it begins to take root in our psyches, this notion of old age being something dull? I can't remember thinking this way as a child. But by high school, I was a full-grown believer. My father's parents, Lena and Max, lived a few blocks from my school, and I was supposed to visit them whenever I could. My father would say, in a fake casual way but I knew it meant a lot to him, "Just drop in and say hi."
I found every excuse not to go. When I finally did show up at their apartment on Pacific Avenue, the TV was on and my grandparents were sitting next to each other on the sofa, watching Liberace or Groucho Marx in the middle of the afternoon. Though their place was stuffed with furniture, I could almost smell the emptiness—dry as old dust left behind in cracks you couldn't see. It made me want to run out of there as fast as I could and never come back.
But my grandparents would be so glad to see me. My grandmother would hurry to the kitchen to bring me a glass of milk and the hard little hamantashen she kept in a box on top of the refrigerator for the grandchildren. My grandfather would kiss me and rub his bristly mustache over my cheek, making me giggle. I should come here more often, I'd think guiltily. It makes them so happy. But in the depths of my teenaged self, I would rant: Getting old is boring, hideously boring! And I stayed away from the little apartment with the blaring television for months at a time.
When I began writing this book, I was as old as my grandparents were then. Memories of them began coming up almost immediately, shadowy poignancies that tugged at my heart. But I did not welcome them. Instead I found myself bored. I'm tired of writing about getting old, I thought, barely months into the process. Whatever made me think that this was a grand adventure, a new country to be discovered? There is so much else to do in my life right now.
This Aging Thing
You know how it is when you don't want to look at something that's disturbing you and it shows up everywhere—you hear a song on the radio or get an email or catch sight of a passing bumper sticker? One bright October day, around the time I first started getting tangled up in how boring the whole topic of aging was, I took a walk through a marsh with my friend Harry. We had stopped to admire two feet of a shining grass snake wriggling into the weeds when, pretty much out of nowhere, Harry said, "Honestly, I can't see why you're spending your time on this aging thing."
I squinted up at him. He's got ice blue eyes that make women take a second look and then a third. "I just don't think aging is interesting for people like us," he said. What kind of people is that, I wondered. I once saw a photo of Harry when he was in his thirties and still had hair and was drop dead gorgeous. Maybe "people like us" meant beautiful people, but I didn't think I'd make the cut.
"I'll be turning sixty-five in two months," he said, "and I'm not really different than I was in my thirties. I'm the same weight I've always been."
He went on to tell me how he's as much in love with life now as when he was twenty-one. He'd walk to Trafalgar Square to eat his lunch outside, he said, and watch for moments of beauty. He'd been reading Stendhal and fallen into a full-bore enthrallment that hasn't let up. "I'm still searching the world for moments of beauty," he said, "like just now, when an iridescence of grass snake comes into our lives." He paused, gazing into the tall weeds where the snake had disappeared.
I couldn't think of anything to say. I was still wondering what "people like us" meant. We stood there for a while and when I started to walk on, Harry stopped me. "Age has nothing to do with it, you see. Nothing at all," he said, flashing those exotic eyes.
Why was I struck so dumb at Harry's question about spending time on this aging thing? Probably, as I think about it now, it was because I was so pleased to be included as someone ready for moments of beauty, not to mention being as fit and healthy as I was in my twenties (not true, but never mind). And because maybe, although Harry didn't mention this explicitly, he was implying that I was a bit fascinating and exotic like himself. Yes, I could see how I might be included in that lively, fortunate, ageless membership. Certainly, I could not think of a single good reason to dispute it.
Later, I could. Many answers came to me, the kind I elaborate in the chapters ahead. But the powerful, first answer, was this: Swallowing the lies of our cultural assumptions means that I can't digest anything else.
I don't know for sure if lies about growing old are poisoning our future but they might be. Here's something I do know: naming the lies smokes them out.
Naming The Lies
About six months after my walk with Harry, I had a chance to watch some of the lies about growing old go up in flames. I flew to Alabama, to a world about as foreign to my San Francisco Bay liberal self as Marrakesh, for a conference called "Womenspeak." Close to a thousand women gathered in the Mobile Convention Center, women from Bible study groups across the South, African Americans and whites, young and old and in-between. About half were on scholarship from homeless shelters and halfway houses, and others were working class and middle class, so far as I could tell.
On the main day of the conference, workshops were scheduled in the morning and again in the afternoon. I was leading two of them, called, Birthing the New Elders. A couple of hundred women showed up. I started by naming the kinds of invitations that prompt women to want to become true elders: the invitations from our own dreams and longings to grow into wisdom; the invitations from younger women for maps of the territory ahead; and the openings left as our own elders die.
"It's our turn now," I said. Then I pulled the mike out of the stand, and strode up the aisle to the back row. Reading the name card on a slim, black woman sitting alone, I said, "Mary Ellen "
She grinned so I figured it was okay to go on. "Tell me a lie about growing old."
"You get weak and stupid," she shot back.
I crossed the aisle to lean the mike to a large woman with perfectly white hair. "Tell me a lie about getting old."
She waved her arm grandly: "Your children and grandchildren will surround you constantly with loving attention in all the ways you've always wanted."
Excerpted from Ripening Time by Sherry Ruth Anderson. Copyright © 2013 Sherry Ruth Anderson. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Prologue: Is there a Map?.................... 1
PART I. TIME TO RIPEN.................... 11
Chapter 1. A Season of Ripening.................... 12
Chapter 2. Old Age is Boring.................... 17
PART II. CLEARING OBSTACLES.................... 23
Chapter 3. We Are Already Naked.................... 24
Chapter 4. When Your Mind is Not Clouded.................... 31
Chapter 5. Escaping Mother Culture's Web.................... 40
Chapter 6. Secrets & Subtleties.................... 49
Chapter 7. Pentimento.................... 59
PART III. CULTIVATION.................... 65
Chapter 8. Disturbing the Furies.................... 67
Chapter 9. Opening to the Questions.................... 76
PART IV. RIPENESS.................... 91
Chapter 10. Becoming an Elder.................... 94
Chapter 11. The Presence of Elders.................... 104
Chapter 12. Ancestors.................... 117
PART V. HARVEST.................... 129
Chapter 13. Lessons from the Harvest.................... 131
End Notes.................... 141
Creating Elders Circles.................... 147
Questions for Discussion and Reflection.................... 151