“Let’s dream and scheme.” That’s what one of my heroes, Gray Panther founder Maggie Kuhn, used to say to her co-conspirators. And, as the year winds down and generations gather, it’s my wish for you.

May you find time to dream up new ways to build meaningful relationships across divides and scheme with your co-conspirators of all ages about ways to repair our nation’s fraying social fabric.

Here are the things I’ve read and seen this year that give me inspiration for dreaming and scheming — and hope for the new year.


Become America: Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility, and Democracy
Eric Liu — a longtime advisor to Encore.org, the author of this compelling collection of sermons, and the innovator behind Citizen University and Civic Saturdays — is one of my favorite dreamers and schemers. If your civic spirit is flagging, read this book. It’s the recharge you’ve been searching for.

As Eric told me recently, “So many people have felt so isolated, disconnected from one another, separated by lines not only of ideology, but generation and other dimensions of identity….We started Civic Saturdays because we’ve always been interested in finding compelling, heart-centered ways to create a shared sense of purpose and to sustain a common set of values.”

Intrigued? Check out a conversation my colleague Eunice Lin Nichols and I had with Eric earlier this year.

Getting Good at Getting Older.
From amen to l’chaim! Faith traditions and rituals, a source of connection and comfort for so many, informed Civic Saturdays — and they infuse this new book from pioneering rabbi Laura Geller and her late husband, Richard Siegel. With humor and practical tools, joy and Jewish wisdom, the duo offer an indispensable guide for those of any faith navigating the years beyond midlife.

Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life.
Will you spend more years in elderhood than you did in childhood? This beautifully written book from noted geriatrician, writer and professor of medicine Louise Aronson speaks to our aging bodies and souls, our need for purpose and meaning, exercise and companionship. Don’t miss her prescriptions, critiques and powerful stories.

The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life.
Author David Brooks, one of the most influential columnists of our time, isn’t waiting for a charismatic politician to deliver us. He pins his hopes instead on a growing band of innovators he believes hold the potential to create a new culture on connection, revamp our civic institutions and seed the ground for broader reforms. As I wrote earlier this year, the book is deeply moving, consistently eloquent and extraordinarily incisive.


“She comes, they are happy”: How communal grandparents are helping raise Finnish children. “It’s Wednesday morning, so toddlers in the Tammi nursery in Helsinki, Finland, are excited—their communal grandparent, or ‘kylämummi,’ is here.” So opens this mind-opening story by Annabelle Timsit in Quartz about the power of intergenerational bonds outside the family to nurture all ages. In Finland, sure, but why not here?

The Trick to Life Is to Keep Moving: What my friendship with a woman 51 years my senior taught me about growing up. Author Devi Lockwood found her own communal grandmother in poet Cora Brooks. This loving, graceful essay honors not just Brooks but the value of seeking “friends across the generational divide.” As Devi writes, “What you find there might surprise you.”

We need a major redesign of life. Laura Carstensen, director of Stanford’s Center on Longevity, makes our task so clear: “If we do not begin to envision what satisfying, engaged and meaningful century-long lives can look like, we will certainly fail to build worlds that can take us there.” Take a few minutes to discover the map of life she so thoughtfully envisions.


Satan & Adam.
Such an unlikely pair. The New York Times describes Sterling Magee, as “a fiery black veteran guitarist,” and the much younger Adam Gussow, as “a white and somewhat nerdy harmonica player.” This documentary tells their story — performing together, facing tensions, finding friendship, a bond that deepens over many decades. No treacle, I promise.

The Farewell.
“Based on an actual lie.” So notes the opening to this touching story about a Chinese family — some in China, some in the U.S. — reluctant to tell their matriarch that she’s dying. It’s another tale of cross-generational love and connection, across cultural and geographic divides. You will cry, and it will be worth it.


I hope any or all of these recommendations give you wisdom, joy and some inspiration, too. We’re going to need your dreams and schemes in 2020. In the meantime, have a happy, healthy holiday season!


Published December 20, 2019