Saturday, May 06, 2017


Leah Friedman's The Unexpected Adventure of Growing Old is an exploration of many of the facets of a subject our culture avoids, primarily out of fear and misunderstanding, but also abetted by a consumer society that rewards youth and ignores the elderly. Add to those factors, a medical mentality and a pharmaceutical industry focused almost entirely on all that is wrong, awry, dysfunctional, and diseased, ageism is the inevitable by-product.

One of the delights of the book is the author's clear understanding of Jungian concepts which she uses to help elucidate a process of growth and development that has the potential of delivering fine rewards of creativity and satisfaction well into very old age.  If you are interested in the prospects of a late life that is a celebration of growing old, this is the book for you.

Dr. Friedman, in her 89th year, takes on the topic of aging directly and without apology, writing while standing on the shoulders of giants who have lived long and well, and while being attentive to and conscious of her own aging process. She in no way minimizes the issues she and many aging people (a group that includes everyone of us!) encounter but dares to explore with clear eye and warm heart many of the experiences of her last three decades--some enriching, rewarding, life-enhancing; others, vexing, heart-breaking, challenging almost beyond human endurance; all imbued with valuable life lessons.

In my initial read, I was happy to jump from chapter to chapter, engaging the text randomly as the author invites the reader to do. Soon, though, I returned to page one and read straight through, having realized the order of the chapters, like the aging process itself, parallels a growing, deepening understanding.

I am in my eighth decade and was delighted to have many of my own assumptions about aging up-ended, especially the most general one of all, that growing old is difficult, unpleasant, troublesome, and to be postponed as long as possible (an actual impossibility) by every means available. Personal experiences of loved ones entering periods of illness that short-circuited and truncated their lives had cast an unconscious pall over my own ideas of growing old. I found practical benefits in having some of my own implicit assumptions called into question and corrected. I know full well that we often find in life what we expect to find, that we both live our own story and can be seduced into living stories others too-frequently and often eagerly write for us. One's own stories about growing old are important, even life defining.

The Unexpected Adventure of Growing Old is well researched and well written. The author has an engaging and deceptively simple style that makes for a smooth read; there is no stumbling over awkward verbiage or jarring style. There are many occasional delights of sentence structure that help shine a light on unexpected rewards in very trying circumstances, even humor in pathos. A paragraph I particularly noted was the description of the author’s own acquisition of a desirable patience as her husband declined into dementia. “. . . there was one period when he told me hundred of times each day how important it is to have compassion, advice which, due to its tiresome recurrence, greatly tested my capacity to follow his worthy instruction.”

Dr. Friedman has given us a brilliant and uplifting new narrative for growing old in a time of increasing longevity and opportunity, a narrative necessary for a changing reality. In typing the book title, I accidentally wrote “The Unexpected Adventure of Growin Gold.” With an added apostrophe, I think that might well serve as a silent subtitle.

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