Saturday, May 10, 2008

Book Review: The Gift of Years



The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully
by Joan Chittister
New York: Bluebridge, 2008

When The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister made its way to my mailbox for me to review, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Was I really the right person to be reviewing this? After all, I am in my thirties, transitioning from youth to middle age. I'm not quite ready for senior citizen status yet. As it turned out, “The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully” is a wonderful lesson in how to live, regardless of our chronological age.

Chittister, a Benedictine sister, is 70 years old. She suggests that she may actually be too young to write this book because life still has lessons left to offer. She “reserves the right to revise this edition when she is ninety.” Chittister views how we life at any age to be a choice. We are each given the gift of today. It is up to us what we do with it. She counters the idea that old age need be a time of isolation and loneliness and uselessness. Rather, it can be a time of great connectedness and joy and purpose. It is a time for looking back, not with the pain of regret for opportunities lost, but with understanding of how the life that has been lived has meaning for who we are right now and what our future holds.

Chittister maintains that senior citizens have so much to offer to the world at large. Their wisdom and their stories and their experience are a great gift. They also have the time to get involved. Without the pressures of a 9-to-5 job or raising a family, they can volunteer more, make more of a difference. They have the chance to do all the things that they always wanted to do that there was never time for before. “Age does not forgive us our responsibility to give the world back to God a bit better than it was because we were here.”

Of course, there are special challenges that come with the transition to later adulthood and Chittister does acknowledge that fact. It can be difficult to be older in a world that so values youth. It can be hard to reclaim a sense of self with everything that defined that self is now gone. It can be a struggle to cope with physical ailments and disabilities. As Chittister states, however, “there is no such thing as not coping. . . The only issue is whether we will choose to cope well or poorly.” We do have a choice. We can adjust our way of thinking and our way of being or we can give up.

Mostly, though, being older brings freedom. “We are free now to choose the way we live in the world, the way we relate to the world around us, the attitudes we take to life, the meaning we get out of it, the gifts we put into it. And all of them can change.” “The Gift of Years” is a gift in itself. It provides the opportunity to reflect on what it means to grow older and provides hope for a time of life that holds great promise.

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