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Excerpt from Still Here by Ram Dass, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Still Here

Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying

by Ram Dass

Still Here by Ram Dass X
Still Here by Ram Dass
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  • First Published:
    May 2000, 208 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 2001, 208 pages

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Two years later, at sixty-two, I had another wake-up call. On a soft autumn evening in 1993, I was on a train between Connecticut and New York admiring the brilliant New England foliage after a day spent hiking with a dear friend in the woodlands surrounding her home. I was deeply contented there on the coach, reflecting on the colors of the day, when a conductor came down the aisle, collecting tickets.

"I'll have to buy mine from you," I said.

"What kind will it be?" he asked.

"Do I have a choice?"

"Regular or senior citizen?"

Now, although I was bald, covered with age spots and battling high blood pressure and gout, it had never ever occurred to me - not once - that I could be called a senior citizen! I remembered the time when I was eighteen and tried to buy a beer legally in a bar, and was astounded that they'd sell one to me. But this conductor hadn't asked for ID; he'd taken one look and thought, "Discount." Offended, amused, confused, I said in a squeaky-sounding voice, "Senior citizen?"

"That'll be four and a half dollars," he said.

"How much would the regular ticket be?"

"Seven dollars."

Well, I was pleased with that, of course, but the satisfaction of saving the money quickly faded. What identity had I taken on with the discount of senior citizen? As the coach rattled on, I felt troubled and anxious, weighed down by the baggage of my new label. Was the saving worth the cost? The role itself seemed so constricting-senior citizen! Old fogey! - and reminded me of a story that my father used to tell about a village tailor known as Zumbach. As legend had it, a man in this village had succeeded in business and wanted to have a new suit made. He went to Zumbach, the most famous tailor in the land, and had himself measured. When he came back to Zumbach's shop the next week for the final fitting, put on his new suit and stood in front of the mirror, he saw that the right sleeve was two inches longer than the left.

"Er, Zumbach," he said, "there seems to be something wrong here. This sleeve is at least two inches too long."

The tailor, who didn't like backtalk from his customers, puffed himself up and said, "There is nothing wrong with the suit, my good man. Clearly, it's the way you're standing." With that, Zumbach pushed on the man's shoulder until the sleeves were even. But when the customer looked in the mirror, he saw that the fabric at the back of the suit was bunched up behind his neck. "Please, Zumbach," the poor man said, "my wife hates a suit that bulges in back. Would you mind just taking that out?"

Zumbach snorted indignantly, "I tell you there's nothing wrong with this suit! It must be the way you're standing." Zumbach shoved the man's head forward until the suit seemed to fit him to perfection. After paying the tailor's high price, the man left Zumbach's store in confusion.

Later that day, he was waiting at the bus stop with his shoulders lopsided and his head straining forward, when another fellow took hold of his lapel and said, "What a beautiful suit! I'll bet Zumbach the tailor made that suit for you."

"Why, yes," the man said, "but how did you know?"

"Because only a tailor as brilliant as Zumbach could outfit a body as crippled as yours."

The mantle of senior citizenship felt exactly like Zumbach's coat, and that very evening, on a train from Hartford to New York City, I began to seriously question where my ideas about aging had come from, why being old felt like such a stigma, and whether or not I could transform this process, with all the fears, losses, and uncertainties that came with it, from a necessary evil into an opportunity for spiritual and emotional growth. Was it possible to create a sort of curriculum for conscious aging? I'd spent a lot of time during the past thirty-five years working on issues of consciousness, after all; on developing a Soul perspective, rooted in spiritual wisdom. Now I wanted to take those decades of inner work and apply them to this new phase of life. But before I could discover an approach to aging unlike the one being offered by this culture (one that I'd absorbed without realizing it), I had to take a long, hard look at these cultural messages. I already knew from my work in sociology and psychology that the first step toward not being unconsciously influenced by something was to become conscious of it. Only by understanding the predicament could I begin to slip out of Zumbach's coat.

Reprinted from Still Here by Ram Dass by permission of Putnam Pub. Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Ram Dass. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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