Cover image for On the brink of everything : grace, gravity, and getting old / Parker J. Palmer.
On the brink of everything : grace, gravity, and getting old / Parker J. Palmer.
First edition.
Publication Information:
Oakland, California : Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2018.

Physical Description:
xii, 198 pages ; 19 cm
Personal Subject:


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
155.6719 PAL Book Adult General Collection
155.6719 PAL Book Adult General Collection

On Order



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.

From beginning to end, the book is laced with humor as well as gravitas -- beautifully enhanced by three free downloadable songs from the gifted singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer , written in response to themes in the book.

Table of Contents


I. The View from the Brink- What I Can See from Here

II. Young & Old- The Dance of the Generations

III. Getting Real- From Illusion to Reality

IV. Work & Vocation- A Life in Writing

V. Keep Reaching Out- Staying Engaged with the World

VI. Keep Reaching In- Staying Engaged with Your Soul

VII. Over the Edge- Where We Go When We Die


Author Notes

Parker J. Palmer was born in 1939 in Chicago. He attended Carleton College where he studied Philosophy and Sociology and graduated in 1961. He then went on to complete his Phd in Sociology at UC Berkeley. After graduation, he took a teaching position at Georgetown University and became involved with the Religious Society of Friends at Pendle Hill. He is the founder and Senior Partner of the Center for Courage and Renewal which operates the "Courage to Teach" program for K-12 educators across the country.

He has published over one hundred essays and eight books. He has also been recognized with thirteen honorary degrees, two Distinguished Achievement Awards from the National Educational Press Association, and grants from the Danforth Foundation and the Lilly Endowment. Parker Palmer's title's include: The Promise of Paradox: A Celebration of Contradictions in the Christian Life, To Know As We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey, and On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Palmer (Healing the Heart of Democracy), an author and poet now in his 80s, telegraphs insights from "the brink of everything" in this collection of lessons gleaned from contemplating one's life while nearing death. "There's no antidote for the gravity that takes us to the grave," he writes. "But there is also a countervailing force called 'levity.'" Palmer includes quotes from spiritual guides such as Thomas Merton and William Sloane Coffin next to personal memoir, diary entries, excerpts from speeches, and quotes from poets such as Mary Oliver, Rumi, May Sarton, Dylan Thomas, and W.B. Yeats. Insights into his own aging as an "angry Quaker" are filled out by a diagnosis of America's spiritual maladies and broken body politic: "When we lack the moral imagination to do something else with our suffering, we do violence." Palmer encourages readers to regain their ability to convert suffering into resurrection; instead of fear, the path to recovery is an embrace of the good, bad, and ugly in each person. For Palmer, radical acceptance eschews perfection in favor of integrity. Warm, generous, and funny, this impassioned book invites readers to the deep end of life where authentic soul work and human transformation become pressing concerns. (July) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

With Gratitudep. ix
Preludep. 1
I The View from the Brink: What I Can See from Herep. 11
II Young and Old: The Dance of the Generationsp. 31
III Getting Real: From Illusion to Realityp. 53
IV Work and Vocation: Writing a Lifep. 85
V Keep Reaching Out: Staying Engaged with the Worldp. 115
VI Keep Reaching In: Staying Engaged with Your Soulp. 145
VII Over the Edge: Where We Go When We Diep. 171
Postludep. 183
Notesp. 185
About the Authorp. 197