Deb Cooper on Parker Palmer

Guest Writer: Deb Cooper

Parker Palmer: On the Brink

“I like being old.  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. . . I like being old because the view from the brink is striking, a full panorama of my life. . . Looking back, I see why I needed the tedium and the inspiration, the anger and the love, the anguish and the joy.  I see how it all belongs. . . I’m not given to waxing romantic about aging and dying.  I simply know that the first is a privilege and the second is not up for negotiation.”  Parker Palmer, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity & Getting Older, pp. 1-2,  2018, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

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More than twenty years ago, I was having a conversation with Barbara, a co-worker, when I asked her, “What is your favorite season of the year?”  Her response: “In the winter, I like summer the best; in the summer, I like winter the best.”  I was so taken aback by her response that I could think of nothing else to say, and the conversation ended.

I am curious why this conversation came to mind as I reflected on Parker Palmer’s words about “aging.”  As I read Palmer, I recognized my almost 70-year-old self as being “in transition” – currently multitasking while yearning for a narrower focus, currently working through a complex project while yearning for more depth in my relationships with friends, with God’s creation, with my own Self.  Perhaps my experience with Barbara came to mind just in time to give me pause to reflect more about just where I am at this moment.  

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been in conversation with Sandra, someone I’m just beginning to know.  She is an artist who paints landscapes of all the seasons—spring, summer, fall, winter—and she also loves to paint the flowers she grows in her own garden.  About her painting flowers, Sandra said she often uses good quality artificial flowers as her model in the dead of winter.  It is her way to bring spring and summer into a cold January.   Sandra brings life to everything she paints, and our conversations have breadth and depth. 

This is a common experience for me—life juxtaposing very different situations, bringing them both into a present moment, as if to say, “it is time to choose.”  I have something to learn from both Barbara and Sandra as I step into one more life transition, and thanks to Palmer’s book, I’m beginning to “see how it all belongs.”  

Deb Cooper