Saturday, July 6, 2013

Fierce With Age: Chasing God and Squirrels in Brooklyn

by Carol Orsborn
Turner Publishing, 2013
244 pages     Spiritual

Sometimes a book comes along at just the right time. That's the case with Fierce with Age by Dr. Carol Osborn. I have been having a few hard months. First, I turned 70; then I was working way to hard; then a dear friend died quickly and abruptly. Then I read Orsborn's memoir of a hard year she had after she turned sixty, and I found sustenance and the will to move beyond the restlessness that has been plaguing my days and nights. Orsborn is an expert on the "baby boomer" generation and the author of several self-help books.

Orsborn describes a year in her life through entries much like a diary. She is on the "wild side" of sixty when a job change causes the couple to move from Los Angeles to New York. She left behind her work, which was waning anyway, and found herself at loose ends and feeling very old. At first she rages against the concept of "ageism" and loses her spiritual footing. Then slowly, she finds herself becoming spiritually whole again and ready to move on fiercely. She says that she is "surprisingly re-energized about who I am becoming, and fiercely curious about what lies ahead."

But becoming "fierce with age" doesn't come easily to Orsborn, and apparently it is not coming easily to me. We see Orsborn's progress through the year from a bout of self-pity to the moment when she rages against God and comes to the spiritual understanding that while she is not about to give up, she is at a new stage in her life's journey. And like most women, she feels like she is on this journey on her own with very little guidance.

The Publisher's Weekly reviewer suggests that this is not "naval gazing" but a rich description of what most thoughtful women of a certain age experience. Before her year is over, she has developed 11 spiritual truths of aging, some guiding principles that she wishes to convey to others moving past middle age. I particularly like number five which says, "We can dance with rather than struggle against the essence of who we are."

"But I now understood, not just intellectually nor even just emotionally, but in the very depths of my mortal soul, that it was not only my destiny but also everybody else's to die someday. I would not, could not, make peace with aging until I had come to terms with the finitude of existence, including the possibility of suffering and the guarantee of death, none of which were likely to be on my own terms."

Nearly everything Orsborn struggled with resonated with me. Last night my husband and I were discussing her book and we mentioned how people--like servers or store clerks--now view us as old, when, in fact, we forget that we look that way. It is always a shock to be treated with deference to our age.

A year ago, I had the opportunity to work with a major children's publisher on a large project, which lasted for four months. It was a very exciting gig for me and extremely satisfying. At one point I mentioned to the 30-something woman who was running the project that I hoped I was being useful. "Oh." she said. "It is wonderful to have you in the group! You know the backlist so well." meaning that I knew all the old books. A back-handed compliment if I ever heard one.

I was inspired when Orsborn detailed the moments when her focus changed from fighting against the aging process to being inspired by the process. She vividly describes the moment when she realized that " is mysterious, awe-some and awe-ful all at once. Can we be wise enough to embrace it all?" That is what I want to do. Embrace the mystery. Live to the fullest with grace and wisdom.

Carol Orsborn's website, aptly called "Fierce with Age."

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