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The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully Book Review

Book Review by Ann Jonas, Tradebook Buyer - CSB/SJU Bookstores
this review was published in the St. Cloud Visitor

The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister, published by BlueBridge, 2008

Author Joan Chittister, a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania, has written more than thirty books, many of them on spirituality. Wisdom Distilled From the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today and The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages are two of her best-selling books on Benedictine spirituality.

In one of her most recent books, The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully, Chittister gives us a blueprint for growing old. In the introduction, she states that the book is written for “those who are on the brink of ‘old age,’ for those who have just received their first mail message from the Association of Retired People, and knowing themselves to be young and healthy, are very surprised by it.” It is also, she states, for those who have aging parents and those who want to ponder the effects of aging in their own lives. Finally, the book is written for those who are now called “seniors”, “the elders” or “the older generation” by others, even though they don’t consider themselves old.

The book has forty short chapters (3-5 pages each) in which Chittister comments on themes such as regret, fear, joy, success, time and wisdom. Each chapter begins with a quote about aging, such as Plato’s “When physical eyesight declines, spiritual eyesight increases.” The end of each chapter features a reflection on what is burdensome and what is a blessing about growing old as it relates to the chapter’s theme.

Chittister tells us to embrace and cherish the blessings of this time of life, rather than bemoan the difficulties and challenges we face. In the chapter titled “Outreach” Chittister states that “Generativity--the act of giving ourselves to the needs of the rest of the world--is the single most important function of old age.” She states that we need to reach out to the rest of the world, instead of waiting for the world to come to us. Volunteerism and community outreach are strongly encouraged, along with staying socially connected.

The Gift of Years emphasizes the importance of the elderly in our society. In the chapter titled “Wisdom” the book tells of the gifts the elderly give us, namely enlightenment, wisdom, and discernment of spirits. Having lived through many experiences, senior citizens have “what this world needs most: the kind of experience that can save the next generation from the errors of the one before them…. Only the elderly have lived through both the good and the bad decisions of the past.”

Chittister states that older age is a special time of life--maybe the most special of them all. The Gift of Years is a virtual “pep talk” for the elderly and for those approaching retirement age. It encourages us to not just live out our years, but to become more fully alive than ever. The book is a wise and wonderful lesson for all ages on how to live a good life.