Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister. Blue Bridge, 2010. 222 pages. ISBN: 9781933346335.
The past year and a half I have read many books on Mid-life struggles, human development, the stages of Christian faith, and spiritual development. I have found this reading to be quite helpful. Before a few years ago I thought very little on these subjects. I just finished two books recently: Weathering the Storm by Bob Biehl and Halftime by Bob Buford. Biehl's book provides a map of different stages of mid-life and how to figure where you are on the map and how to get to the place you want to go. I found the book to be quite helpful. I decided to read it over again. Two important things I learned from the book is the importance of developing a few close relationships and the need to rewrite our dreams or come up with new ones.
Buford's Halftime is a good companion to Biehl's Weathering the Storm. The two authors even think similarly about retirement. They prefer to think of it as a transition instead of as retirement. Buford's idea is that around mid-life we began to reevaluate our life. It is similar to halftime at a football game. We evaluate what we did in the first half of our life. He thinks that the main thrust in the first half of our life is to be successful; while, the second half is the search for significance. During half-time we might have regrets and thoughts about how we could have done it differently. In the first half of our life we believe we have all the time in the world to accomplish the things we want to accomplish. In the second half we realize we only have a limited time left. Both authors believe that the second half of our life can be even better than the first.
On one of my visits to Chapters, a coffee house in Oregon, I noticed Joan Chittister's book, The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully. The title caught my eye since I have been reading on the topic for over a year now. The author's name sounded familiar and guessing I must have read a book by her previously. I began reading the book this morning. Some of the things she is saying is complementing the two other books I have already mentioned. Joan believes that life is more than breathing or simply being alive. It is about "becoming more than we are, about being all that we can be" (viii). Like Buford, it is searching for significance. Middle age seems to be a reflective time where we reflect on our life and think about how we can make the best of the second half of our life. Chittister thinks the latter end of our life can be our best years. She was seventy when she wrote the book. She thinks that this time of life can be a time of growth. This is remarkable because many people think of old age as a time of decline. Another book I have been reading by James V. Schall has an essay on the death of Plato. Schall asserts that Plato continued to write when he was eighty-one years old.
Chittister argues: "This is a special period of life--maybe the most special of them all... Life is not about age, about the length of years we manage to eke out of it. It is about aging, about living into the values offered in every stage of life. As E. M. Forster wrote, 'We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us'(x-xi)." Old age is just another stage of life. WE actually live not one life, but several lives. "The evening of a well-spent life," wrote a French moralist, "brings it lamps with it" (xi). The author believes that old age can enlighten not only us, but those around us. Another book I read said that two things remain important in old age--knowledge and love. It is a time that we can continue to grow in wisdom and to invest our lives in those who will follow us.