Monday, April 9, 2012

"The Gift of Years" (Joan Chittister)

TITLE: The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully
AUTHOR: Joan Chittister
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Bluebridge, 2008, (226 pages).

This book is a gift for all ages. For the young, it is a gift of illumination about what all persons will eventually go through. For the old, it is a gift of knowing that the greatest value we have is our beings. Chittister was 70 when she wrote this book. In fact, she even called herself young! It reminds me that age is very much heart-based, rather than counting the number of wrinkles on our skin.

In the book, Chittister encourages readers, especially the older ones, to embrace their aging years, seen often as the golden years. Instead of feeling more helpless about physical abilities, or hopeless about future possibilities, readers are urged to enjoy the years through avoiding burdens and accepting blessings. The book essentially goes through every detail of life, like a zipper joining two seams together.  Through 40 meditations, Chittister masterfully begins with a quote about old age from a famous person. She then explains the reasons that often weigh old people down, that old people are either sour or serene. After describing the often downward pattern of thought that makes people sour, she moves toward giving hope, saying that we need not remain depressed or sad. All it takes is a change of perspectives. While understanding the physical limitations, older folks need to remember that their spiritual discoveries are in the horizon. Life after retirement is not doom and gloom. Instead, it is the blooming of wisdom, and room to grow in a different way. In a nutshell, Chittister suggests:

  • Aging is a gift to be embraced; not burdens
  • Aging is a special period, a beginning of a new phase
  • Aging is beautiful especially in the spiritual realm
  • Aging is not old but a new way of life
  • Aging is purposeful
  • One can grow old gracefully and gratefully.
My Thoughts

I like the way Chittister display her understanding of the aging psyche. She accompanies the reader like a careful listener, discerns the paths like a wise sage, and shows the way like a reliable compass. Each of her meditations is conveniently summarized in terms of burdens and blessings. After showing the ways that can make one sour or serene, she offers the reader an opportunity to say yes to the new opportunity to grow. Every page oozes with wisdom. Every emotions is thoughtfully phrased. Every common symptom of aging is recognized but not denied. This book itself is a gift to the aging community. At the end of the book, Chittister shows us again that death is not something to be feared. The symptom of good aging eventually lies in our outlook at the end of our lives. Aging well does not mean living in fear of dying. In aging well, we will look serenely forward to be joined with our Creator, trusting in God's perfect time. There is no fear, only love. 

This is one of the best books on aging well. It is well written without theological jargon. It has great wisdom and spiritual guidance. Above all, it gives hope to a new way of living. I highly recommend this book for all readers.

Ratings: 5 stars of 5.


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