Sherwin B. Nuland, The Art of Aging; A Doctor's Prescription for Well-Being (New York: Random House, 2007), 302pp.
We're often told to "act your age," but what does that mean as you grow older? There's a thin line between denial and delusion — trying too hard against all odds, and not trying at all. On the one hand, we all feel the effects of aging, but on the other hand it can be hard to admit the inevitable. There's also a big difference between living long and living well. Somehow, it seems like life goes on and on, and nothing much ever happens, and then one day you wake up and everything has changed.
Sherwin Nuland is a Clinical Professor of Surgery at the Yale School of Medicine. His book draws upon his personal experiences of aging, his forty years as a surgeon and scientist, and some good old story-telling about what he has learned from others. Aging is both a science and an art. The scientific aspects might be the easiest part. By now we're familiar with the importance of a healthy diet, regular exercise, genetic good luck, intellectual stimulation, and social connections. But Nuland pushes further to explore the intangibles like one's attitudes, dispositions, and religious faith. As he says at the end of his book, it's not just about eating granola. Cultivating equanimity over entitlement, contentment over complaining, or determination over discouragement, are only three examples of the spiritual art of true wisdom. Body, mind, and soul are all important.
Aging brings both gains and losses. Cultivating the wisdom to separate fact and fantasy is huge, as is learning to live with uncertainty and adversity. One of the biggest lessons of aging, says Nuland, is that "choice exists for each of us." Aging is not a disease, it's a natural condition of every life. And if it is handled wisely and well, it really is true that there's more sugar at the bottom of the cup. On the subject of aging well I highly recommend the book by Atul Gawande called Being Mortal (2014), and the article by Ezekiel Emmanuel called "Why I Hope to Die at 75" (The Atlantic Monthly, October 2014, available online).