At first glance, this book has nothing to do with my life. I'm not in my 60s, or "nearing death," even though we're all nearing death, and nobody knows when except for maybe psychics (?), although even then I'm not sure, I'll have to google it or ask one, I just don't want to pay the $100 a minute or whatever it is to speak to them (I know because I called one for literally 2 minutes when I was a kid and got in SO. MUCH. TROUBLE.)
I was introduced to Susan Moon's This Is Getting Old through my favorite Buddhist website, Lion's Roar, in which they excerpted a chapter. I read it and was hooked! So I bought the book within about 45 seconds, since Amazon makes it way too easy to buy shit.
I find metaphors to be easier pills to swallow than the hard truth. In this book, the metaphor is life; the truth is death. Even still, it took me forever to finish it. I'd read a chapter (or half a chapter) and then put it away. It made me uncomfortable. I wouldn't say I'm more or less preoccupied with morbidity than the next person, but starting to read this book made me realize that I'm not as cool with the idea of death as I thought I was. (I ended up reading the bulk of it and finishing it over a weekend in which I was taking a hiatus from life and consequently more welcome to the idea of death, lolz.)
I'm not sure exactly what I'm scared of. Not of what happens after -- I've gotten over the which-is-it-gonna-be-heaven-or-hell anxiety, thanks to my curiosity about other religions/ideologies and how they regard the afterlife, but no thanks to my 12-year, pre-college Southern Baptist education in which I freaked out on a consistent basis that I'd definitely end up in pitch black burning for all eternity. At this point in the game, it's probably more the how and the when that freaks me out. Like, can I just be super old and senile and drift off into eternal sleep? I don't want to drown or fall from some great height or some other slow and painful shit, say tomorrow or next year. I mean, who does, obviously, other than masochists (?) - again, I'd have to ask one, but I'll pass.
Susan's take on the process of approaching old age is like none I've ever been privy to, most probably because it feels natural in our society, generally speaking (or maybe it's just me, but probably not), to turn a blind eye to the idea of aging and dying, as well as to those who are undergoing the process. In other cultures, "old people" are revered and seen as keepers of wisdom to be bestowed upon you, should you be so lucky! Here, it's like, fix this sagging skin and find that fountain of eternal youth, and definitely dismiss old folks as decrepit, or put 'em away somewhere you don't have to see them often, until they DIE.
Susan seems so REAL about it all. She's not all rainbows about aging, nor does she seem bitter. I got the sense she's struggled with the grand and the minuscule of it, yet balances it out with her long-standing Zen practice. She takes these new and scary experiences of, say, her eyesight wavering, or her memory fading, as opportunities to better relate to what her parents must have felt as they reached the "end," or to cultivate more gratitude for all of humanity and life in the present. It's quite beautiful to read someone's account of adjusting to change - the final (in this life) change - with such honesty, in all of its heartbreak and humor.
She touches on the benefits of medication and meditation, the delicate conversation between patience and pain, the ever-shifting balance between dignity and denial, the relief and the regret of being alone. "Getting old" is something we all do, every moment of every day, which means that we are constantly undergoing change. Blink, and we'll miss it all, but, to our benefit, Susan stays present through the discomfort, lighting a path for those who perhaps might not want to face it. I find myself inspired even further to practice presence, through my own discomfort with whatever change I am always going through. This Is Getting Old makes everything - life, death - seem less... scary.
I did feel a bit sad once I finished the book, to be honest. I think that's a metaphor for how I feel about the denouement of anything I'm attached to - a good book, whatever TV series I'm binging on, life. But that's the nature of things! Impermanence. And thanks to Susan, I'm feeling more okay with that.
Life is transient
The great matter