Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years; Growing Older Gracefully (New York: BlueBridge, 2008), 224pp.
Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, has written over twenty-five books that map the terrain of the Christian life, with special attention paid to issues of feminism, international justice, the monastics, and reform in the Catholic Church. I've especially enjoyed Scarred By Struggle, Transformed By Hope (2003) based upon the Jacob narrative, Listen with the Heart (2003), and Called to Question (2004). In The Gift of Years she writes for a broader audience that is not necessarily Christian or even religious.
Now that she has passed her seventieth birthday, Chittister explores what it means to grow older gracefully. To do this she has written short (3–5 pages each) meditations on forty themes like regret, ageism, adjustment, letting go, sadness, solitude, success, etc. She begins each chapter with a pithy aphorism from a broad range of poets and prophets, both ancient and modern — Plato and Picasso, Browning and Byron, Emily Dickinson and Jung. After the brief meditation, she summarizes the chapter by observing both the "burden" and the "blessing" of the theme under consideration. On the idea of the future, for example, she writes, "The burden of these years is to assume that the future is already over. A blessing of these years is to give another whole meaning to what it is to be alive, to be ourselves, to be full of life. Our own life."
Which is to say that much of my future of growing older is what I intentionally choose to make it. We all face the inexorable biology of the body and the deterioration of our physical condition. But we also enjoy the possibilities of the "eternity of the spirit" and the frame of mind we choose to follow. One can choose to age passively or actively, says Chittister. That is wisdom worth pondering, especially when you consider that the average retirement age is about sixty-four, which means the average American also has another twenty years to live and to love. Having worked long and hard to make a living, Chittister advises that our older years offer us the chance to make a life.