Here's a book review I wrote for the upcoming November issue of Springfield Connection magazine. I highly recommend the book, especially for people over the age of sixty looking for inspiration for living the last stage of their lives.
The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister
"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." -- Joan Chittister
In my classes and workshops on life legacies and positive aging, most all of the participants are in their sixties, seventies, and eighties (the oldest being 98 years of age). And the vast majority of them are women. As a man in his 60's, I've felt blessed to be in the presence of so much collective wisdom and life experience.
I've also been inspired about the possibilities for "growing older gracefully" by reading books such as Joan Chittister's new book, The Gift of Years. The author offers thought-provoking insights about many dimensions of aging in brief chapters on the topics of fulfillment, meaning, solitude, agelessness, limitations, legacy, and thirty-four other central issues of growing older.
Each chapter begins with a memorable quotation, followed by Ms. Chittister's reflections on the issue, and ending with statements on the burdens and blessings of growing older. Her chapter on "Outreach" begins with the quote:
"Few persons," La Rochefoucauld wrote, "know how to be old."
The author goes on to describe how our youth-oriented culture isolates the older population and she calls on elders to reach out to the world. Instead of bemoaning the isolation, older people need to stretch beyond themselves to meet the world.
Social engagement -- not family, not education, not money -- is the key factor in successful aging. Chittister notes that the single most important function of old age is "generativity -- the act of giving ourselves to the needs of the rest of the world." She concludes her reflections on outreach by stating that:
"A burden of these years is the danger of considering ourselves useless simply because we are no longer fulfilling the roles and positions of youth.
A blessing of these years is the freedom to reach out to others, to do everything we can with everything in life that we have managed to develop all these years in both soul and mind for the sake of the rest of the human race."
After reading the book, I felt even more energized and excited about living the last stage of my life. So far, my 60's have been filled with new learnings, outbursts of creativity, and many meaningful life experiences.
I certainly agree with Joan Chittister that this is a "time in which a whole new life is in the making again. But the gift of these years is not merely being alive -- it is the gift of being more fully alive than ever."