I bought and read this book over 20 years ago. I was about the same age as the author at the time and I had a sense of my advancing age, mortality and the need to make changes. I did not have a spiritual guru like Katz did with Thomas Merton. ( I do share his interest in the writings of HL Mencken.) While there were times when I would have liked to be alone, I had absolutely no desire to find and buy a distressed cabin in the woods and live there.
While Katz was a far more successful professional man, I fortunately did not share most of the childhood traumas that he experienced with his parents and siblings. His demons followed him from childhood to adulthood.
This book had far more influence on me when I read it at 50 years old than it did re-reading it at 70 years old. Maybe I am a bit wiser, maybe I am a bit more resigned at my current age. Plus I have very little enthusiam for change.
Interestingly, I read an update on Jon Katz and noticed that he divorced his wife Paula in 2008 and remarried in 2010. Reading between the lines in his book, I sensed that he may have had some dissatisfaction with his marriage. I guess that that was part of the change that he was looking to make.
This is an inspiring book for those on a spiritual search or reconciling their mid life crisis. Very good story…
Excerpts from the book I found interesting…
I am not nearly as afraid of dying as I am of the hinges inside my mind and soul rusting closed. I am desperate to keep them open, because I think that if they close, that’s one’s first death, the loss of hope, curiosity, and possibility, the spiritual death. After that, it seems to me, the second one is just a formality. I wanted to oil the hinges, force the doors to stay open.
I’ve struggled mightily to figure out how to be spiritual without having to be religious, how to find peace without bending my knee before an altar.
I’d lost close friends this way before, even abandoned a couple myself. When men are pressed, their friendships go to the bottom of the list.
There is huge risk involved whenever you seek to discover yourself. You might find that you’re not as happily married as you thought you were. That you’re growing older than you’ve permitted yourself to acknowledge. That you have few true friends, or the wrong ones. That you’re not happy with the place you’re living or fulfilled by the work you’re doing. That you’re not happy or fulfilled, period.
As with so many other boomers, death was suddenly in the air around me, the consciousness of mortality emerging as parents, older friends and mentors, and the first of my peers began to falter and fall. I was writing my own history. I wanted immortality, though not in the conventional religious sense. I wanted to live on in the fond memories of the people I left behind, to be recalled as a supportive father, a loving husband, a devoted friend, a man who struggled to be a good person.