"The thing most wrong about this book," Joan Chittister tells us in this vibrant collection of essays on growing old, "is that I may be too young to write it. I am, after all, only seventy." She is, she tells us, among those whom gerontologists call the "young old," those who are sixty-five to seventy-four and may not yet have attained the ripest wisdom.
We are indeed fortunate that Chittister decided not to postpone the writing of The Gift of Years, for it is full of the grace of decades of thought and meditation. It is written not only for those of us who are among the old, but for everyone: we are all growing older, and all of us may eventually undertake the search for meaning and fulfillment that lies at the deepest heart of the aging process.
The Gift of Years is a full basket of rich gifts: forty-plus short essays on the many dimensions of eldering, "its purpose and its challenges, its struggles and its surprises." Each essay begins with words of wisdom from someone who has considered the meaning of growing old, then tells a brief story or an anecdote, offers a reflection, and invites us to participate in a meditation on the burden and blessing of the years.
In "Time," for instance, Chittister quotes Pablo Picasso: "It takes a long time to become young." There is an anecdote about a potter named Thomas, who at eighty had lived long enough "to release the beginner in himself again and again." There are reflections: time ages things; time deepens things; time ripens things. And then there is the meditation. The burden of years is allowing time to "hang heavy on my hands," Chittister writes; a blessing of years is to "realize what an important and lively time this final period is."
Chittister's essays are rich in variety, nimble in thought, and resonantly prophetic in voice. She writes about regret, relationships, religion; about fulfillment and freedom; about limitations. This is a book to be kept beside a favorite chair and savored slowly, thoughtfully—no gulping here—and to be reread as we move into "the twilight time," the last years in which we must find the strength to trust others, bear weakness well, and surrender to acceptance. These are the years, she says, quoting E.M. Forster, when we must be "willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us."
The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully is not just for elders. It is for all those who are searching for ways to learn, grow, and make the best of our gifts in deeply troubled times.
Joan Chittister is an internationally known writer and lecturer, and the executive director of Benetvision: A Resource and Research Center for Contemporary Spirituality. She currently serves as co-chair of the UN-sponsored Global Peace Initiative of Women. She lives in Erie, PA. You may read a longer biography here.
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