Old Age

Old Age

Helen M. Luke
Parabola Books, New York, 1987; hardcover, 112 pages.

This is a beautiful little book with a title which does somewhat less than attract one to pick it up and read it. The subject of aging is one which is largely ignored by our present culture in the hope, apparently, that if no attention is given to it, it will not happen. This youth worship, which so permeates society, stops us from considering the wonderful opportunities we all have for reaping the benefits of our lives and preparing for an easy and even exciting transition beyond the physical.

Helen Luke, herself in her eighties, presents us with two alternatives: to grow old or to slip into disintegration. Her presentation of the growing process which should continue in all of us is very thought-provoking. While we obviously must give up some of the activities of youth and respect the aging processes of our physical vehicles, emotionally and mentally we have much to experience and evaluate no matter what our chronological years may be.

Interpretations given by the author to four passages from literary classics really demonstrate the endless possibilities for growth when an individual's prime seems to have passed. Odysseus' final inland journey after completing the Odyssey as foretold by Teiresias, Lear's speech to his daughter Cordelia near the end of King Lear, Prospero's freeing of Ariel and his farewell in the Tempest, and a selection by T. S. Eliot from "Little Gidding" are all used to demonstrate the insight which their authors saw as coming to characters who had not always acted admirably during their earlier lives.

The book and its stories provide the realization that in the end it is the release from our attachments, whether to people, things or power, which will provide the ultimate feeling of having learned something from this lifetime on earth.

One final point from this little collection of essays is the author's suggestion that it is not necessary to reach old age before considering this method of viewing life. The earlier we learn the value of detachment, the more meaningful the remainder of our lives can be and the simpler and more beautiful our transitions when the time arrives to put aside our physical bodies.

-Willamay Pym