ON the BRINK OF EVERYTHING: Grace, Gravity & Getting Old
by PARKER J. PALMER
A book review by David Bradshaw, My Idea Factory
Referring to himself as an “An Angry Quaker” Parker Palmer reveals how the narrow and often twisty road led him to a discover a contemplative perspective of the greatest paradoxes of his life and modern American culture. Parker explains with clarity how to discover your vocation — where your great joy meets the world’s great need.
Reflecting upon his last eight decades as a writer, teacher and activist, Parker J. Palmer’s latest book lives up to the title by helping readers discover his hard-won life lessons learned and how to age gracefully — which he describes in humorous prose and poetic beauty.
The book, which consists of a collection of 24 inspired essays, is a fun read whether you’ve followed his life and work over the last 40 years, or like me, this is your first read. Either way, Parker’s 10th book will likely have you nodding in agreement at his lovable, outspoken and very inclusive worldview.
Palmer shares a treasure chest of truisms encompassing the distilled common sense from many wisdom traditions. He paints his stories using colorful word pictures drawn from diverse palette of luminaries including; Thomas Merton, Rumi, Gandhi, George Orwell, Dickinson and Yeats, just to name a few.
Throughout history contemplatives and mystics like Palmer have warned us that when society does not see the world as a whole, we lose a divine perspective and ignore the edges of society, viewing them as “the others.” Parker reminds readers, quoting Kurt Vonnegut, “Out on the edge you can see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”
Like fellow contemplative teacher Richard Rohr, Parker concludes that everything in our life belongs — “the anger and the love, the anguish and joy…now appear as strong threads of a larger weave.”
Parker’s political views are somewhat left of center, however he offers excellent common sense steps to facilitate healing our biggest cultural divides — starting with America’s still-all-to-prevalent racism.
I like the book’s easy readability, featuring a short introduction to each of the seven chapters and a paragraph summary of his 3–4 short essays and then a concluding poem in each chapter.
Parker Palmer is a mentor’s mentor. Read this book as you would drink a glass of fine wine, slowly, present to the nuances of its rich flavor, as each sip brings you closer to ‘the brink of everything’ delicious in life.
Here is a short sampling of my favorite ‘Palmerism’ quotes…
“Being human means being broken and yet whole. The word integrity comes from a root that means ‘intact.’…being ‘integral,’ whole and undivided — which means embracing our brokenness as an integral part of life.”
“Our lives leave a trail of words, even when we’re not speaking or writing. With every move we make…we’re dictating the next few lines of the text called our lives, composing it as we go.”
“Sanctuary is wherever I find safe space to regain my bearings, reclaim my soul, heal my wounds, and return to the world as a wounded healer…I need sanctuary if I want to loosen the grip of our culture’s violence on me…The one I need may not be a building, but silence, the woods, a friendship, a poem, or a song.”
“Heartbreak comes with the territory called being human…Suffering breaks our hearts, but the heart can break in two quite different ways. There’s the brittle heart that breaks into shards…then there’s the supple heart, the one that breaks open, not apart, the one that can grow into greater capacity for the many forms of love…Only the supple heart can hold suffering in a way that opens to new life. How can I make my heart more supple? The answer, I think, is to exercise my heart by stretching it, the way a runner stretches the leg muscles to avoid injury.’”
To read 100 more of my favorite ‘Palmerisms’ from the book, click HERE.