Life’s Journey, through Literature

by Linda Manwarren | Chair, Wellness Committee

Life is a journey to be experienced, not a problem to be solved.

- attributed to Winnie the Pooh

“Life is a journey” is a well-known phrase, one that pops into our consciousness frequently as our years accumulate. It has popped in for me lately through the world of books, a world I frequently visit. And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier is one of those books. Originally published in French, Il pleuvait les oiseaux, it was a CBC Canada Reads selection a few years ago and has received several literary awards. It is a quiet, beautiful, and sometimes uncomfortable reflection on aging, self-determination, friendship, love, and death. Tom and Charlie, two octogenarians, live deep in the northern Ontario forest. They have abandoned their ordinary life and embraced living life where their personal choices are the primary force through life and death. Their only connection to the outside world is through two marijuana farmers who bring them whatever they can’t grow, build, or develop on their own. Their solitude is disrupted by the arrival of two women. The young woman is a photographer who is researching a survivor of one of the catastrophic fires of the early 1900s. The other woman is a 65-year-old escapee from an asylum where she was forcibly confined since her teens. Each character grapples with the choices that brought them to this place and time. The character development is rich and brings us through definitions, and redefinitions, of love and vulnerability. In our life journey we want to be happy, to love and be loved, and to live and die with dignity. This short novel invites us to visit these attributes of life through the eyes and hearts of its characters.

Well-Aged, Making the Most of Your Platinum Years by Ralph Milton is about fully embracing life’s journey beyond your 80th birthday. Well-Aged expands the conversation around aging through the stories of real people and real experiences. Octogenarians are Canada’s fastest growing demographic, and while there are many books written about aging by health professionals, there is little available at the non-professional level for the oldest of the old. Ralph Milton is a retired journalist and provides the reader with a down-to-earth, inside look at what it’s really like to be old. Topics include:

  • Identity and independence
  • Choosing a retirement home
  • Personal health needs and priorities
  • Community support, friendships, and recreation
  • Spirituality and religion
  • Loneliness, depression, and frailty
  • Leaving a legacy and making end-of-life arrangements

The COVID-19 pandemic increased public attention on the elderly and what can go wrong. To quote the author, “Society has never had to deal with such a huge bunch of old people.” In this book, Milton presents an insider’s take on life’s journey into this world and wants everyone to embrace the belief that old age is not a disease.

Linda Manwarren is an avid reader who loves the time and opportunities that retirement provides — whether it is following long-time passions or exploring new ones. Linda is a member of the Board of Directors of the Calgary Retired Teachers’ Association and chairperson of ARTA’s Wellness Committee.