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The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully, Book Review

The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully,

Joan Chisttister



David O. Brown, O.S.M.

Can you even guess how many times the author uses a question mark? The reason I ask is that I am amazed at the times I have had to use a question mark as I was taking notes for this review. The author seems to avert to this in her essay on “RELIGION” suggesting that the essence of being an elder is to ask questions. She suggest further that as the elders “flame” most clearly as he/she makes sense of the answers to these questions.

The book is a series of some forty essays, labeled but not numbered. It need not be read in order but as one topic or another strikes a chord, one might pick it up. Her intent, though not stated, makes the operative word in the title “Growing.” Ageing should not be just a passive phase but a time for having the time of one’s life. A time for living, not just waiting for death!

Throughout, the author is hopeful and the various titles hardly give us a sense of just how serious this book is. Topics like “MEANING,” “JOY,” and “TRANSFORMATION” give no hint but, in the introduction, with a simple short story about a fishing village in a winter storm losing five fishermen, points to something more. “They were among us and they are gone.” She goes on to say that most of us are not surprised but make our way one day at a time.

Who should read this book? You should read this book. “I’m only in my 30’s” you answer. OK, still you should remember that even now you are working on your “LEGACY”- one of her titles. If you are over thirty, you’re late.

While there are some references to physical infirmities, the book is for the vast majority of us who are well and active (or who could be active). The author says she was approaching her 80”s as she wrote this book and reserved the right to revise it when she got into her 90’s. I, as one well into his 90’s, can assure her that there is no need to revise her work. I have only to point to the fact that as I prepared this review I was frequently delayed as I reflected on the advice offered, in the various essays, which were applicable to my own life.

The fundamental thrust of the book, as I read it, seems to be, “What to do when I have nothing to do?” And the answer is: “Don’t just sit there, do something.” If life is passing you by it may be because you are just lagging behind.

In the argot of the day, this is not a “religious book, it is a spiritual” book. There are, however religious elements. Several places the author asks a series of questions which religious readers will recognize an examination of conscience. We are reminded several times that our perception of God plays an important part in how we live our lives. And, given the situation of many elders these days, one’s home becomes a “monastery of the elderly.” Still, as she speaks of “JOY,” she reminds us that age has been given us to enable us to be free.

Whether speaking of “TRANSFORMATION” or “ADJUSTMENT” or “LETTING GO,” there is always an emphasis on personal responsibility. As mentioned above, Sister Joan will not let us drown ourselves in pity. “Don’t just sit there. Do something.” Review a book!

Recently at a Yoga class, the directress suggested that we consider “who we are?” Sister Joan, in this book, opens by asking the very same question but slightly different: “Have we become who we were made to be?” It is not too late.


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