The Gift of Years

One’s later years are a gift, not a burden, stresses Sister Joan Chittister in her inspiring book, The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully (BlueBridge Books, 2008). “This book is about the enterprise of embracing the blessings of this time and overcoming the burdens of it,” she writes. “That is the spiritual task of later life.”

And this book is the gift I would gladly give, if I could, to everyone I know who is apprehensive about aging. Of all the books on the subject of purposeful aging I’ve read in recent years (on the run-up to my own 70th birthday next year), this is the book I keep closest – on my bedside table – and return to most often.

Chittister, now 78, a Benedictine nun, well-known author of dozens of books, and a popular lecturer, was voted the most inspirational woman alive in a recent survey. Reading this one book alone, I can see why.

“There is a purpose to aging,” she says in the Introduction to The Gift of Years. “Old age enlightens – not simply ourselves, as important as that may be, but those around us as well. Our task is to realize that.”

WOW bk cover -- The Gift of Years

I know I’ve mentioned Chittister’s book before (see June 30, 2014, post, “A Bright and Vibrant Place”), but I’d like to focus solely on it now, in the hope of nudging WOW Factor readers to find it, read it and benefit from it, as I have done. Looking back, I see that at every significant new stage of life I’ve turned to trustworthy books for needed guidance and direction. This book, at this stage, I’ve found, is such a guide.

The Gift of Years is meant to be read — and reread — slowly, reflectively, one topic at a time. In short chapters, the book covers forty meaningful topics in all, such as: Meaning, Joy, Accomplishment, Adjustment, Fulfillment, Letting Go, Freedom, Success, Solitude, Wisdom, and Faith. Here are some nuggets:

* On Meaning: “To be meaningful to the world around us means that we need to provide something more than numbers. It means that we are obliged to offer important ideas, sacred reflection, a serious review of options, and the suggestion of better ideas than the ones the world is running on now.”

* On Accomplishment: “There is no excuse now for simply dropping out of life. As long as we breathe we have a responsibility for the co-creation of the world, for the good of the human race.”

* On Fulfillment: “Age is the antidote to personal destruction, the call to spiritual growth, because age finally brings us to the point where there is nowhere else to go but inside for comfort, inside for wealth, inside for the things that really count.”

* And, of course, on Wisdom: “Why must the elders in a society immerse themselves in the issues of the time? If for no other reason than that they are really the only ones who are free to tell the truth. They have nothing to lose now: not status, not striving, not money, not power. They are meant to be the prophets of a society, its compass, its truth-tellers.”

Reading The Gift of Years is empowering. It is also enlightening in every sense of the word: It lessens the weight of aging anxieties, it sheds light on the shaded path ahead, it lifts and brightens our spirits. Joan Chittister is a truth-teller, and this book is a gift.

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