According to writer James Atlas, it is no easy task to come to
terms with one's own mortality but it is necessary, especially at
midlife. This late middle-aged man looks back over his life area by
area and sorts through decades of experiences. He is searching to
understand what is really essential; he wants to leave behind the
trivial and be well prepared for whatever lies ahead.
Perhaps the front cover gives some clue as to the book's contents.
A gray-haired man in a business suit is laying across the trolley
tracks smack dab in the middle of a busy city street. He appears
unconcerned by the traffic and its potential harm. His eyes are
closed as if he might be asleep.
The book contains a series of essays written by an intelligent,
rather sober man who is taking stock of his life. During the
sometimes-painful process of sorting out his life experiences he
often compares himself to his parents, a colleague, or a friend. He
seems to be searching for a standard of behavior by which he
can/should judge himself.
Each essay addresses a single topic (for example, parents, money,
God, failure, health, etc.) that he thoroughly examines. Once he
ate and drank whatever he wanted without any concern as to how it
might impact his health later on. Now, however, he has given up
alcohol and is concerned about his cholesterol. He used to win
tennis matches when his father was his opponent; now he loses
matches to his own son.
In his desire to overcome what he refers to as spiritual isolation,
he studies Judaism. His family had never observed or practiced it.
He feels comforted by the rituals as well as some of the messages
of religion. He gives yoga a brief try. He becomes quite interested
in meditation and is pleased when he achieves success with it.
Eventually he stumbles onto what is, for him, the truth.
He always has been a voracious reader, which is not unusual for a
writer. He loves books. But he accumulates too many books and is
frustrated that he will never have the time to read most of them.
He realizes that the clock is continually ticking. He won't have
time to do many of the things he has always wanted to do.
The author's message is this: Study your life experiences. Leave
behind what pulls you down. You cannot change the past. Realize
that, just like everyone else, you're flawed. Quite possibly you
have done the best you could along the way. Realize just how lucky
you probably are in the overall scheme of things, and try to enjoy
being alive for whatever remaining time you have.
Reviewed by Carole Turner on January 12, 2011
My Life in the Middle Ages: A Survivor's Tale