One of the iconic figures for my Boomer generation is Joan Baez, known and appreciated for her song lyrics, her music, her rapturous voice, and the wisdom they contained and transmitted to us. I still recall and savor her concert at Princeton’s McCarter Theater when I was an undergraduate in the 60’s. Recently, I discovered something she once said: “You don’t get to choose how you are going to die, or when. You can only decide how you’re going to live. Now!”
Another inspiration of mine is Mary Oliver, who asks in her poem, “The Summer Day,” “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Since reading that poem I cannot get her question out of my mind, or her question in the preceding line, “Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?” Fortunately, this preoccupation has borne fruit by encouraging me to face, head-on, my fears about aging and the questions they provoke and evoke, especially with the end of my life nearer now than it was when I was an undergraduate of twenty, listening to Joan Baez.
Our experience, recorded in the book, has taught us that we cannot pretend to have the final, only, or best answers to questions about mortality, vulnerability, dependence and loss. Each of us must wrestle with these questions and fashion his, or her, own, unique answers. As Rainer Maria Rilke wrote and as we encourage you to go and do likewise, “Live the questions now,” until you live your way through to an answer. Your own, uniquely-fashioned answers are the only ones that will serve you and nurture fullness in your life.
Carol and I are proud to be media sponsors for the 6th Annual Conference on Ageing and Spirituality, and we hope that your presence at the conference will encourage you to probe the questions you face; to take heart from Baez, Oliver, Rilke and West; and to set you on the path toward greater fullness of life – body, mind, heart and spirit – to the end. Then, you may be able to say as one of my favorite sages, Mae West, said so well, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
See Robert Weber and Carol Orsborn discuss their new book, The Spirituality of Age, here.