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On the Brink of Everything

Beloved author, Parker Palmer, began writing On the Brink of Everything as a series of essays, which appeared in his column for On Being Studios.

He describes this book as:

"a meditation on aging in which I’ve tried to be true to gravity, to grace, and to the voice of my own experience in a way that invites the reader to listen to his or hers."

His insights hold countless gems of wisdom. Here are some memorable excerpts.



"I no longer ask, “What do I want to let go of, and what do I want to hang on to?” Instead I ask, “What do I want to let go of, and what do I want to give myself to?”


"We need to reframe aging as a passage of discovery and engagement, not decline and inaction."


"Offer yourself to the world—your energies, your gifts, your visions, your spirit—with openhearted generosity. But understand that when you live this way, you will soon learn how little you know and how easy it is to fail. To grow in love and service, you must value ignorance as much as knowledge and failure as much as success."


"What do I mean by an “inner life”? I mean a largely silent, solitary process of reflection that helps us reclaim the “ground of our being” and root ourselves in something larger and truer than our own egos."


"I’ve long thought of old age as a time when all that’s left is to tell the truth—trying to remember to tell it in love. It’s liberating to be at a point where I no longer need to posture or pretend because I no longer feel a need to prove anything to anyone."


“I don’t want to fight the gravity of aging. It’s nature’s way. I want to collaborate with it as best I can, in hopes of going down with something like the grace of that setting sun. For all the wrinkles and worry lines, it’s a lovely thing simply to be one of those who’s lived long enough to say, ‘I’m getting old.’”


"I can’t think of a sadder way to die than with the knowledge that I never showed up in this world as who I really am. I can’t think of a more graced way to die than with the knowledge that I showed up here as my true self, as best I knew how, able to engage life freely and lovingly because I had become fierce with reality.".


"Looking back, I’m awed by the way that embracing everything—from what I got right to what I got wrong— invites the grace of wholeness."


“I am that to which I gave short shrift and that to which I attended. I am my descents into darkness and my rising again into the light, my betrayals and my fidelities, my failures and my successes. I am my ignorance and my insight, my doubts and my convictions, my fears and my hopes.”


"I’m among the very fortunate ones whose material needs are largely met, so I don’t have to worry about losingthings that some folks require for survival. For people like me, the notion that old age is a time to dial it downand play it safe is a cop-out. Those of us who are able should be raising hell on behalf of whatever we careabout: freedom’s just another word for not needing to count the cost."


"Poetry has redemptive power for me, as it does for millions of people. Poets like Rainer Maria Rilke, Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, Naomi Shihab Nye, William Stafford, and Gerard Manley Hopkins have provided life jackets to keep me from drowning, ballast to keep me from ascending."

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