Reading for the Tenth Meeting — AGING


For our next meeting, on Wednesday, February 24, 2016, we will examine the experience and meaning of aging.

From a non-supernatural perspective, what is the significance of the inevitable deterioration of everybody’s bodies as we grow older?

Of course there are the wrinkles, the hair loss, the many aches and pains… But also there is the deep knowledge of people, the recognition of patterns in human behavior, the long commitments sometimes bringing with them great sentiment, even love.

What does it mean to be “old”?

Do our elders — our parents, our friends, the old codger in line in front of us — deserve respect simply for being old? If so, why? Does the accumulation of experience add up to wisdom? If so, what is the nature of this wisdom?

Old age is a neglected topic of conversation in our youth-obsessed American culture. We shy away from it, talk instead of yoga and healthy diets and keeping up with the latest music. But perhaps it is not just our contemporary superficial, throw-away culture that is the culprit, in this case. Perhaps the major, supernatural-based religions, with their emphasis on the “transcendence” of this life, contribute to the denigration and devaluing of the experience of actual aging in this life.

My gut tells me that the more we shed our supernatural habits of mind, the more we begin to look to our elders as mentors, even as “spiritual” guides. For when life is all you have, and they have more of it, then they certainly have something, don’t they? The native Americans knew this.

A beautiful story: A friend of mine who works with local Indians told me once that whenever an elder comes into a room, every single person in the room, no matter how high status, is instantly aware of the elder’s presence. When he or she speaks, even just a single sentence, his or her words are invariably followed by a long silence, denoting the full attention and careful reflection of the listeners, before the conversation picks up again. That moved me a lot when I heard it.

Let’s read two books:

The Spectator Bird, by Wallace Stegner

Old Age, by Helen M. Luke

And watch two films:

Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne

45 Years, directed by Andrew Haigh.

Bonus film to watch on your own: Venus, directed by Roger Michell and starring Peter O’Toole. This is a quiet, extraordinary film, made in 2006 when O’Toole — who, you will recall, played the dashing Lawrence of Arabia when he was young — was 74.

As for the films, you can watch them on your own, or we will have two separate screening nights, for those who can make it, before the meeting.

Nebraska on Friday, February 12, 2016. 8 pm for an 8:30 start at our house.

45 Years, on Monday, February 22, 2016. NOTE: We will see this one at a theater, the Landmark Shattuck theater in downtown Berkeley. 7:20 is the screening, so let’s meet at 7:10 outside the theater. Here’s the link:

Happy reading.

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