CHAPTER 1 Lightning Strikes Youth and Old Age Once, when I was about twelve, my father came into my room holding a book. He was in his forties at the time. “I want to show you something,” he said. The book was an autobiography of the poet Robert Graves. On the front cover was a photograph of Graves as a young man: black-haired, handsome, and full of vitality and hope. My father turned the book over to show a photograph of the present-day Graves: hair white, face wrinkled, eyes shrouded in sorrow. “Look at this,” my father said, turning the book over and over, showing me the startling transformation of youth to old age and back again. “You can’t understand this,” he said. He dropped the book on my bed and just as suddenly as he had come into my room, he turned and left. I had not said anything. I sensed my father’s awkwardness and the poignancy of his effort, but he was right. I didn’t really understand, any more than I could understand Suzuki Roshi when he spoke of enjoying his old age. Now, at sixty-four, I do understand and thank my father for his long- ago eff ort. The old understand the young bett er than the other way around. My father wanted to reach out across the gulf separating age from youth and tap me with the magic wand of this hard-won knowledge, but he couldn’t. He could only show me the two photographs and wish the best for me as I set off on the journey to adulthood. When Suzuki said “Everything changes,” he could just as easily have said “Everything ages.” That is what my father was trying to show me. Intellectually we know this. We know that everything ages; we see it all around us. For much of our life it is like the house we live in or the air we breathe—a familiar fact that we barely notice. But as we grow older, that fact is harder to shrug off. Aging is not just change, but irreversible change— for better or for worse. We did not get that sought- aft er promotion, and now it will never come. Or we did get the promotion, and life has never been the same! We are poor. Or we were once poor, but now we are not. We have a bad knee, and even surgery will not make it new. Or maybe the surgery worked and we can say good- bye to the pain we’d lived with for so long. We always wanted children, but now we are too old to have them. Or we adopted a child, to our never-ending joy. One way or another, our life consists of “the things that happened to happen.” Irreversible change is different because there is no going back. Its triumphs sustain us; its losses mark us. Th e real question, the one this book can help you answer is: What do we do about it? In much of today’s world, people are living longer than they ever have. The life expectancy at the turn of the century was forty-five; now it is eighty.
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