Let me get past that too cute headline right away: the referenced “old friends” are books, my books. There have always been books. I have always called them my friends. I do not recall life without books.
In the last year or two, books have begun to accumulate in small-ish piles around the house mainly because I'm running short of shelf space but also out of laziness. Books impart a sense of coziness that the piles seem to enhance.
Just last week I wrote a bit about browsing through Still Here by Ram Dass (remember the frog story?) which has since led to me to search out my copies of some other books by him.
I am part way through Walking Each Other Home written with his life-long friend Mirabai Bush which was published a year or so before Ram Dass died in 2019. It is subtitled, “Conversations on Loving and Dying”. The book is also about living because talking about death is not possible without talking about life.
Do you mark up your books? I do. I highlight the parts I think I will want or need to read again. Of course, the problem with that is in time I forget the context of the highlighted portion so I need to back up and read the lead-in and next thing I know I'm re-reading the whole book.
Ram Dass has been talking (and teaching) about death and dying pretty much since we, the public, first became aware of him in the 1960s. While tracking down some information about him the other day, I came across a print interview done when yet another of his books, Polishing the Mirror, was published in 2014.
The interview was conducted by journalist and author David Crumm who has covered religion and spirituality throughout his long career. The full conversation is worth your time but these two excerpts stick with me.
”RAM DASS: When you get old, everything changes - your body changes, your family changes. You can’t do what you’ve always done, anymore. And, either you can complain about things changing - or you can be content. Instead of complaining, you can say: 'Oh, yesss! Look at all this change!' You can welcome it.”
As I spend some of my time these days taking stock of my 79 years, the surprises are sometimes about how lucky I have been. Not lucky in riches or love, but in ideas that have served me well. I can't claim to have arrived at them from deliberate study or contemplation or even having idly wondered about them. They were just there for me when I needed them.
One of them is precisely what Ram Dass says about growing old in that quotation: “...you can say: 'Oh, yesss! Look at all this change!' You can welcome it.”
This entire blog for more than 16 years is the product of that idea that came to me sometime in the early 2000s when I was first researching what it is really like to get old.
What I slowly came to understand in the years that followed but did not actually grok until I read this interview is that old age is not a single stage of life. It is at least two, maybe three and could easily be several more than that. Ram Dass:
”DAVID: And now we’ve come full circle to our previous interview, haven’t we? I remember interacting with you, at that time, just a few years after your stroke when Still Here was coming out - and that book supposedly held your teachings on Aging, Changing and Dying.”
”RAM DASS: (Still smiling broadly.) When we talked, I had written that book about what I thought aging and dying was all about. But I was in my 60s. Now, I’m in my 80s and this new book talks about what it’s really like.
“Now, I am aging. I am approaching death. I’m getting closer to the end. (He pauses, tilts his head back and looks out at the Pacific.) I was so naive when I wrote that earlier book. Now, I really am ready to face the music all around me. (And he laughs.)”
Me too. Or, at least I'm getting there. Thank you, Ram Dass.
On Wednesday, my former husband, Alex Bennett, and I recorded another episode The Alex and Ronni Show. We spent the greater portion of it with me haranguing him for complaining about not receiving his mail-in ballot for the recent primary election in New York and not taking any action to remedy the problem.
Although I believe it is the sacred duty of every citizen in a democracy to vote, I had no idea I was that adamant about each of us doing everything in our power to make it happen.
You can check out Alex's online talk show here.