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New Book: Celebrating the Gift of Years


book - gift of years by joan chittister

We turn not older with years, but newer every day. – Emily Dickinson

The Gift of Years (Novalis, 2008) examines the meanings and possibilities, joys and struggles of growing old from a spiritual perspective.

The author, Dr. Joan Chittister, is an award-winning writer, member of the Benedictine Sisters (Erie, Pennsylvania) and founder of Benetvision. The book caters to adults at the doorstep of old age, as well as those concerned about their parents and the kinds of issues they may be confronting.

Chittister reminds us that aging is a natural part of life and invites us to discover its soulful possibilities:

I can only be sure of what I see around me. Margaret at 95, once a master seamstress, still goes looking for work . . . she hunts around for new slacks to hem for friends or new drapes to sew. She talks to everyone around her, seeks them out when they miss coming by. She reads and listens to music. She keeps in touch with old pupils. She listens to new lectures on CDs. She lives.

As Chittister explains:

Each period of life has its own purpose. This later one gives me the time to assimilate all the others. The task of this period of life, Margaret teaches me, is not simply to endure the coming of the end of time. It is to come alive in ways I have never been alive before.

In a series of 40 snappy upbeat chapters, Chittister, 72, addresses almost every aspect of the aging process. The chapters with one-word titles – fear, possibility, adjustment, joy, regret and mystery – can be read slowly and savoured over and over again.

Chittister urges us to celebrate our past and to let go of regret. She challenges us to discover what we may yet become. She writes, "Whatever happens to the body, what toll age takes on the physical, the spirit does not grow old. In our dreams, in the way we ourselves see ourselves, we are forever becoming."

The author describes the last stage of life as "the capstone years". She revels in the opportunities it provides: time to harvest memories, time to savour relationships as "the alchemy of life" and time for solitude that nourishes the soul.

Chittister also deals with the downside. In the chapter on adjustment, she explores the various ways of coping when hit by serious illness or the death of a loved one. But none of it is easy; there is only the choice between coping and not coping. "We must consciously decide how we will live, what kind of person we will become now . . . how alive we intend to be." This is a deeply spiritual journey, and Chittister makes a wise companion.

In tune with the book’s upbeat tone, Chittister reserves the right to revise this edition of the book when she is 90 – in case she has more to say.