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On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old

Written by: Parker J. Palmer
Narrated by: Steve Carlson
Length: 5 hrs and 27 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (7 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

From beloved and best-selling author Parker J. Palmer (Let Your Life Speak, The Courage to Teach, Healing the Heart of Democracy) comes a brave and beautiful book of reflections on eight decades of life and work. Reframing aging as "a passage of discovery and engagement", Palmer says, "Old is just another word for nothing left to lose, a time to take bigger risks on behalf of the common good." On the Brink of Everything is not a "guide to" or "handbook for" getting old. Instead, it's Palmer turning the prism of insight on his experience as a way of encouraging listeners to do the same with theirs. In elegant prose and lyrical poetry, he offers a set of meditations on the meanings of one's life - past, present, and future. 

“The laws of nature that dictate the sunset dictate our demise," Palmer writes. "But how we travel the arc between our own sunrise and sundown is ours to choose: will it be denial, defiance, or collaboration?" With gravity and levity, compassion and chutzpah, Palmer writes about cultivating a robust inner and outer life, a sense of meaning and purpose amid pain as well as joy, and the intergenerational relations that enhance the lives of young and old alike. Here's a book not only for elders but also for those younger folks we call "old souls". And this book sings! It includes three songs by Palmer's longtime friend and colleague, singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer, written in response to themes in the book. 

Palmer and Newcomer hope to engage listeners in an ongoing conversation about what Howard Thurman called "the growing edge" of our personal and public lives. Ultimately, Palmer sees age as a precious gift: "The fact that I've come this far makes me one of the lucky ones." Surprised by the fact that he likes being old, he writes, "Welcome to the brink of everything. It takes a lifetime to get here, but the stunning view and the wake-up breeze in your face make it worth the trip."

©2018 Parker J. Palmer (P)2018 Parker J. Palmer

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A feel good read

Palmer claims “overriding gratitude” as his view from the brink at the end of life. He does not acknowledge fully that overriding gratitude is like other mental states including the depression that he has experienced. It is temporary.

This book is an unfocussed ramble with honest self revelation in places. He is honest about the limits of his and human knowledge. Overall the book leaves the reader feeling good, which makes it difficult to critique. Maybe I’m a curmudgeon, but I’ll take Atwood’s cutting realism with respect to human nature over Palmers sometimes accepting and sometimes judgemental approach.

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  • Sparkles Galore
  • 2018-08-24

Truth Beauty Hope

There is something here for everyone.
A dream for the young to hide in their heart.
Understanding for the middle aged, of the changes that are only glimpses.
Comfort for those on the brink, that the wild tide never really ends.
Something for everyone.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Subaru Dave
  • 2018-12-19

Poignant for any age

Parker Palmer speaks from the vantage of a 79 year old looking back and looking forward. His views spans his life as a writer and life-long learner. In my mid 50's, I'm grateful to find Palmer's expressions of candor and truth that speak to al all generations. I'm on my third hearing. Highest recommendation!

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Warren Hebert
  • 2019-04-06

All Shall Be Well

Parker Palmer is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder and senior partner emeritus of the Center for Courage & Renewal. Palmer is now in his 80s, so his reflection, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old, is a gift to read. (Especially for those of us who see the years flying by at the rate of a super-sonic jet.) Parker opens with the observation of a friend's toddler, just walking, exploring anything and everything, with curiosity and appreciation. Palmer generously compares his own discovery of the experiences of getting old, as also being on the brink of everything,

Palmer challenges us to recognize the graces, joys, and challenges of aging, appreciating the magnificent vistas at this point in our journeys. He explores the critical aspects of diversity, community, connectedness, and trust in our relationships, versus the fear, othering, and violence we see in so many. On the Brink of Everything explores the gift inter-dependence versus the overrated and dangerous path of trying to make it on our own in some isolated, gated community. Palmer also challenges the reader to wrestle with our responsibility to one another, to society, and the earth. Parker also reflects on the regenerative, restorative work of nature, writing of one of his sacred spaces, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. He also mentions Celtic spirituality's "thin space," where there is a very narrow distance between heaven and earth. Palmer weaves in brilliant threads of Rumi, Mary Oliver, Henry Nouwen, Thomas Merton, and mystics from many wisdom traditions.

Palmer mentions that “we come from mystery & we return to mystery”. Regarding levity, Paker indicates that “the spiritual bread of life can give me a belly ache if it isn’t leavened with a measure of humor.” He writes that "wrinkles, aches, pains, etc., suggest that "we are withering into truth”.

On the Brink of Everything humorously contrasts gravity, "everything goes south," with levity. He cites G.K. Chesterton, "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." Palmer also writes of his hopes for a Creator with more a sense of levity than gravity. Toward the end of the book, Palmer quotes the Rule of St. Benedict via David Stendl-Rast, "Keep death, always before your eyes." Finally, Parker Palmer offers a parting gift from the 14th Century mystic Lady Julian of Norwich, "All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well." Thank you, Parker Palmer, for offering readers a roadmap, or perhaps GPS guidance, to the Brink of Everything.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • D. Cassidy
  • 2018-08-06

Worth a listen

Parker Palmer is a favorite of mine. He always comes across as wise and gentle. I am not sure this is his best book but it's worth a listen. At first, I thought the narrator sounded very much like Palmer but as the book went on he sounded a little tired. I wish the author had narrated the book. Now that I am finished I will buy a print version for my library.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Michael Doty
  • 2019-01-09

A Lifechanger!

Wonderful! I needed that at 67. Have listened 5 times, and will again. Palmer is a master at knowing where I am and what I need to hear.

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  • Ronald G. Shenberger
  • 2018-06-17

Where do we go from here.

I am a long time fan of Parker Palmer. His many books have been guidepost to me on navigating life's journey. This latest book has again pointed me in a direction as I too enter the time of my life where the horizon is approaching. I am also a student of C.G. Jung and his theories of individuation and the collective unconscious of which I am a small part. I highly encourage readers to read or listen to "On the Brink of Everything."

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Kenna Coltman
  • 2019-10-29

Lessons worth learning no matter your age

This collection of essays and poems is full of wonderful treasures and profound wisdom. Lyrical, amusing, enlightening, and thought provoking passages, read in a soothing cadance that allows you to soak the meaning into your soul. I'll listen to it again and again, and learn something with each iteration.

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  • Jeffrey Fisher Jr
  • 2019-08-12

Meditative, inspiring, and soothing

More meditative and soothing than any guided audio meditation I've ever heard, in part because of the exemplary narrator - loved him! A perfect compliment to such an important book.

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  • Hope
  • 2019-06-29

Excellent!

A very insightful and inspiring book by an aging person who loves life but who faces its end with tenderness, honesty, courage and hope. His essays are not stuffed with platitudes but rather deliver a message of inner and outer acceptance of both the light and the darkness in ourselves and others.

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  • ElizOF
  • 2019-06-15

Lyrical. Compassionate. Wise

This wss a moving book shared thtough the eyes of a wise teacher looking back on life abd thinking forward. The essays filled my spirit with insight and a recognition that we are all capable of reflection if we stop to observe our lives carefully.