Radical Endurance

Growing Old in an Age of Longevity

A personal guide to the transformations, hard truths, profound pleasures, and infinite possibilities of aging

Andrea Gilats
University of Minnesota Press
forthcoming November 2024

One May morning shortly before her seventy-fifth birthday, Andrea Gilats awoke to a startling, sudden spike in consciousness that she was about to leap from older to old. Radical Endurance is the story of the reckoning that followed, a candid, clear-eyed journey of discovery through the pitfalls and possibilities of aging. Facing the realities of her age, Gilats explores her fears of failing health and loss of independence while navigating the terrain of an ageist culture. But among such troubling uncertainties, she also encounters the singular pleasures of “growing up again,” of finding fresh and unexpected ways of understanding herself and making meaning during this new era of her life.

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Reflecting on moments in midlife, from the painful adjustments of widowhood to life-altering medical diagnoses, Gilats arrives at a valuable insight: the journey toward old age begins sooner and lasts longer than we might imagine. Yet from any moment in this process, old age is the future, brimming with potential. In her account, Gilats combines personal and professional experience, offering firsthand knowledge of a stage of life that we each meet in our own time, in our own way. She also contributes the learning and wisdom of her heroes and mentors, including feminist author Barbara Ehrenreich, poet May Sarton, singer and activist Joan Baez, psychiatrist Gene Cohen, archaeologist Arthur C. Parker, physician Jane Hodgson, and Nobel literature laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Enlightening and deeply moving, alive to the sadness and joy of time passing, Radical Endurance is a guide and a companion through the experience of growing old as well as an unconventional coming-of-age story, celebrating a new stage of life when we need it most.

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Introduction: The Pages Of Our Lives

Nobel literature laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer reminds us that the pages of our lives can only be turned forward, never back. Only now, as advancing age has granted me the time and psychic space for sustained rumination, have I been able to recognize that certain memorable, consciousness-changing experiences from my past, along with the courageous people who made them possible, affected me so deeply that I was literally transformed from those points forward. 

Together with more recent truths that I can no longer ignore or deny, these transformations have helped me realize that aging, as biologists rightly insist on reminding us, begins at birth and continues through a lifetime. It is marvelous what we can see when we open our older eyes to our younger selves. Suddenly, events and experiences that I once thought of as squirreled-away trash—or treasures—of my past have come alive with new, relevant meaning. As educator Herbert Kohl says, reconsidering our pasts in old age gives us the chance to “grow up again on a conscious level.” Indeed, as our lives lengthen, our pasts become the durable, supportive shoulders on which we can stand as we live through old age.

Most spectacularly, reaching old age in an age of longevity means that we now have futures, and for a good number of us, they will be long, almost as long as middle age. It is only fitting, then, that in some of this book’s stories, I have tried to look ahead. By nature, we are dynamic beings, and I am unwilling to surrender my remaining years to the ageist myth that I will inevitably suffer an extended period of impairment, decline, and decrepitude before dying. Nor do I feel able to put myself on the front lines of a decisive war against ageism, but in order to be honest with myself, I have to acknowledge—and, as a writer, give language to—the fact that I will live out my remaining years in a profoundly ageist society.

Old age, I am discovering, is not necessarily a time of life characterized by simplification, simplicity, and retreat. I am beginning to see that it is actually a time of contradiction and unprecedented complexity. In these ways, it is like the rest of life: interesting, unpredictable, and at times, unbearably hard. But there is one difference. Old age is our final time of life as we know it. Until I began writing Radical Endurance, I had no idea how curious I would become about what comes after. Now, I am steadfastly hoping that whenever I enter whatever comes after, I will embrace everlastingly everyone I have ever loved, including those who live after me. I know that I will become dust, but I hope, as physicist Carl Sagan suggested, it will be cosmic dust.

Throughout my reading life, I have been buoyed by the life stories of my fellow humans. In each of us, there is something for all of us. If we are alive now, chances are still excellent that if we are not already old, we are going to grow old, an achievement I never counted on until it happened to me. No matter your age now, I hope that you will find nourishment for your soul in the true stories offered here, and that they will help light your way into the rest of your life.


Andrea Gilats insightfully chronicles a journey to and through old age that is both deeply personal and universal. It is a biography of roads taken and forgone, of growth and self-actualization despite the ageism infusing our society. Radical Endurance depicts old age as embodying uncertain futures, to be sure, but also unfettered freedom.

—Phyllis Moen, McKnight Presidential Chair, University of Minnesota; author of Encore Adulthood: Boomers on the Edge of Risk, Renewal, & Purpose

Old age is a time to turn the page and to step courageously onto a new path of purposeful aging. It’s a time to grow up a second time and to commit to actively growing and giving for life. The pro-aging mindset that  Andrea Gilats models and offers in Radical Endurance will add life to your years.

—Richard Leider, international bestselling author of The Power of Purpose, Repacking Your Bags, Life Reimagined, and Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Old?

In this engaging book, lifelong educator Andrea Gilats personalizes her journey of aging, inspiring us to deepen our understanding of our own unique journeys, especially in a society that typically treats age as a hindrance. Most importantly, Radical Endurance empowers and compels us to actively continue the process of creating our own authentic selves.

—Mary Nichols, dean emerita, College of Continuing and Professional Studies, University of Minnesota; leader of innovative lifelong learning programs

Radical Endurance is one of those books that I didn’t want to put down. Every page offered a new insight and personal gift that I felt in my heart and mind. Andrea Gilats shares both her vulnerability and hope for aging through beautiful stories and reflections in a way that is relatable and heartfelt. A must-read for anyone who is aging (which is all of us).

—Tracey Gendron, director, Center on Aging, Virginia Commonwealth University; author of Ageism Unmasked: Exploring Age Bias and How to End It 

Photos of Andy by Sara Tucker

Books bring meaning to our lives at times when we most need to feel that we are not alone.

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Books bring meaning to our lives at times when we most need to feel that we are not alone.

Books bring meaning to our lives at times when we most need to feel that we are not alone.

Photos of Andy by Sara Tucker