Growing Old by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

Growing Old

Growing Old: Notes on Aging with Something like Grace by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
English | April 28th, 2020 | ISBN: 0062956434 | 224 pages | EPUB | 0.68 MB


From the revered author of the bestselling The Hidden Life of Dogs, a witty, engaging, life-affirming account of the joy, strength, and wisdom that comes with age.

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas has spent a lifetime observing the natural world, chronicling the customs of pre-contact hunter-gatherers and the secret lives of deer and dogs. In this book, the capstone of her long career, Thomas, now eighty-eight, turns her keen eye to her own life. The result is an account of growing old that is at once funny and charming and intimate and profound, both a memoir and a life-affirming map all of us may follow to embrace our later years with grace and dignity.

A charmingly intimate account and a broad look at the social and historical traditions related to aging, Growing Old explores a wide range of issues connected with growing older, from stereotypes of the elderly as burdensome to the methods of burial humans have used throughout history to how to deal with a concerned neighbor who assumes you’re buying cat food to eat for dinner.

Written with the wit of Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck and the lyrical beauty and serene wisdom of When Breath Becomes Air, Growing Old is an expansive and deeply personal paean to the beauty and the brevity of life that offers understanding for everyone, regardless of age.

Why write a book about old age? Nobody wants it. Nobody likes it. When I told a friend what I was doing, she said sarcastically, “That sounds like fun,” because except for senior discounts we see nothing good about it. When it comes, we try to hide it while our minds and bodies crumble, and death is our only escape.

But this view is needlessly negative. Death is the price we pay for life. Only plants, animals, fungi, and single-cell organisms have it, and all of us pay for it sooner or later. Like most of us, I see the price as extra high, something like getting a six-figure credit-card bill. Would it be nice to avoid it?

I live in rural New Hampshire, and when I looked around for a debt-free entity, I saw just grasses and trees. That didn’t help—all of them will pay the price just like I will. Then I saw a stone in my field.

Three hundred million years ago, about ten miles below the earth’s surface, this stone was formed. Somehow it got squeezed up and out, and in 10,000 BC a glacier brought it to the place where I saw it. By then it was 29 million years old. What’s that like? You see what it’s like if you imagine time as distance and picture the time between now and 10,000 BC as one foot on a very long ruler; the rock was formed five miles away on that ruler.

In 1935 my father brought me to the same place. I was four years old and since then I’ve seen some changes. The trees are taller, a pond appeared when my dad made a dam in a stream, and the town paved the dirt road that went by our house. All that was quite something, especially the road, because soon after it was paved, the town gave it a different name. This took emotional adjustment on our part.

But consider the stone. Assuming it popped from the earth in a good place and had consciousness, it could have watched evolution transform a single-cell organism into a Tyrannosaurus rex and later watched another dinosaur transform into a bird. With life and consciousness, the stone could have known what influenced these transformations—the climate changes, the great extinctions, and the great recoveries. Just in my area it would have seen the glacier melting, the frozen earth recovering, plants starting to grow, and wildlife starting to flourish.

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