What Jane is Reading: Parker Palmer’s Newest Book

by Jane Vella with Valerie Uccellani

On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity & Getting Old  by Parker Palmer, 2019

From Jane:  I found this a delightful, informative, funny, inspiring and honest book. Parker is a contemporary of mine (I’m his older sister!) so I discovered that his themes, his laughter, his stories and mine are often similar. He responded to my note on his new work with this appreciation of our similarities:

“You planted, tended, and grew a fruitful and beautiful garden, and now is the time to pause now and then and (as my grandfather used to do) stand at the edge of the garden and simply enjoy the beauty of the thing!”

The website for the book includes a free downloadable chapter and this description: Drawing on eight decades of life – and his career as a writer, teacher, and activist – Palmer explores the questions age raises and the promises it holds. “Old,” he writes, “is just another word for nothing left to lose, a time to dive deep into life, not withdraw to the shallows.” But this book is not for elders only. It was written to encourage adults of all ages to explore the way their lives are unfolding. It’s not a how-to-do-it book on aging, but a set of meditations in prose and poetry that turn the prism on the meaning(s) of one’s life, refracting new light at every turn.

In this 2015 video of Parker’s short speech “Living from the Inside Out” at Naropa University, Colorado, you can see and hear the man in action.  Charming!  As he says, “There may be snow on the roof, but there’s still a fire in the furnace.”

From Val:  As I listened to this speech, I couldn’t resist writing down the wisdoms in it. Although I wrote them mostly for me, I decided you might like them too! Here are Parker Palmer’s Six Tips for Life:

(1) Be reckless when it comes to affairs of the heart. Be passionate – fall wildly in love with life. Take risks, no matter how vulnerable they make you. Walk straight into your not-knowing.

(2) Take everything that is bright and beautiful in you and introduce it to the shadow side of yourself. Let your altruism meet your egotism. Let your generosity meet your greed. Let your joy meet your grief. Wholeness is the goal – but this does not mean perfection – it means embracing your brokenness.

(3) Extend welcome to “others.” There is no virtue greater than hospitality to the stranger. It is time to welcome – by 2045 the majority of Americans will be people of color. Our main hope for renewal is diversity, welcomed and embraced.

(4) Take on big jobs worth doing. Refuse to be seduced by our cultural obsession to be effective, as measured by short- term results. The tighter we cling to the norm of effectiveness, the smaller the tasks we’ll take on. Our heroes take on impossible jobs and stay with them for the long haul because they live by a standard called “faithfulness.”

(5) Every day, exercise your heart by bringing in life’s pains and joys. Remember that violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering. Sometimes we aim that violence at ourselves; sometimes we aim it at other people. The good news is that suffering can be transformed into something that brings life, compassion, capacity.

(6) Daily, keep your death before your eyes. This may sound like a morbid practice, but holding a healthy awareness of your own mortality, your eyes will be open to the grandeur and glory of life.

Please tell me (Jane) what you found in Parker Palmer’s newest offering.


Jane Vella is a celebrated author, educator and founder of Global Learning Partners.  Valerie Uccellani is Senior Partner and Consulting Team & Certified Network Leader for Global Learning Partners.


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