Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Gift of Years: A Review

Published January 1, 2008. 
Aging provides opportunities for growth, and Chittister describes numerous ways people can develop during late life.

Her book The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully is a series of meditations on the following topics:

Intro:The Purpose of Life, Regret, Meaning, Fear, Ageism, Joy, Authority, Transformation, Newness, Accomplishment, Possibility, Adjustment, Fulfillment, Mystery, Relationships, Tale-Telling, Letting Go, Learning, Religion, Freedom, Success, Time, Wisdom, Sadness, Dreams, Limitations, Solitude, Productivity, Memories, Future, Agelessness, Immediacy, Nostalgia, Spirituality, Loneliness, Forgiveness, Outreach, The Present, Appreciation, Faith, Legacy, Afterword: The Twilight Time.

I recommend just one chapter a week, taking one page a day and thinking about the implications of the ideas. The author doesn't provide a lot of specifics. The book is mainly a set of abstractions. However, they can bear fruit if readers generate their own examples.

I very much enjoyed the quotes that start each section. Because I have been sharing quotes on aging via Twitter since 2012, I had already encountered several of them in my search conducted over the last few years. However, she had many that I have not found. And she has some that are great but more than 140 characters.

Chittister's collection of quotes is worth the price of the book alone. Let me share a handful of them:
From "Ageism": "I am sixty-five and I guess that puts me in with the geriatrics. But if there were fifteen months in every year, I'd only be forty-eight.  That's the trouble with us: We number everything." James Thurber
From "Joy": "As for old age, embrace and love it. It abounds with pleasure if you know how to use it. The gradually declining years are among the sweetest in life....Even when they have reached the extreme limit they have their pleasure still." Seneca
From "Adjustment": "To know how to grow old is the master work of wisdom and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living."  Henri Frederic Amiel
From "Fulfillment": "Old age has a great sense of calm and freedom when the passions have relaxed their hold and have escaped not from one master but from many." Plato
From "Mystery": "For age is opportunity no less / Than youth itself, though in another dress / And as the evening twilight fades away / The sky is filled with stars,  invisible by day." Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 
From "Learning": "I have enjoyed greatly the second blooming that comes when you finish the life of the emotions and of personal relations and suddenly find--at the age of fifty, say--that a whole new life has opened up before you, filled with things you can think about, study or read about....It is as if a fresh sap of ideas and thoughts was rising in you." Agatha Christie
From "Solitude": "For a younger person, it is almost a sin--and certainly a danger--to be too much occupied with himself. But for the aging person it is a duty and a necessity to give serious attention to himself. After having lavished its light upon the world, the sun withdraws its rays in order to illuminate itself." Carl Jung 
From "Spirituality": "Age puzzles me. I thought it was a quiet time. My seventies were interesting and fairly serene but my eighties are passionate. I grow more intense as I age.: Florida Scott-Maxwell  
From "The Present": "Nothing is inherently and invincibly young except spirit. And spirit can enter a human being perhaps better in the quiet of old age and swell there more undisturbed than in the turmoil of adventure." George Santayana
Again, The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully is not a good book to read cover-to-cover on vacation. It should be read slowly over a matter of weeks and months. And I can see that it will offer new insights if reread after the passing of time.  Chittister has dug deep and unearthed some real treasures in her quotes, her observations and her invitations to see late life as a period of growth.


Books on Aging


  1. What a wonderful book that I'd never heard of. I must admit after watching my father suffer from stroke to cancer to bladder issues, my generics scare me. But these quotes seem soothing, and I pray that as I age I, too, will re-discover myself again and again and again until I am no more. Thank you for a reassuring post.

    1. I am sorry that your dad had such a hard time during late adulthood. Yes, there are sometimes physical challenges (major and minor), but for many there are also years for service, self-discovery and enjoyment -- in ways that differ from the other life stages, but enjoyable nonetheless.

  2. It is indeed a great book and in those moment of fear and self-doubt it can really making you question what you have to fear!