Thursday, May 28, 2015

Review: The Gift of Years

In the book’s Introduction, Joan Chittister writes:  Life is about becoming more than we are, (it’s) about being all that we can be.”  She quotes E. M. Foster, who 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.”
“Life is about becoming more …, the life that is waiting for us.”  In this book Ms Chittister makes clear that old age is not primarily an ending of something, but the beginning.  It is a new phase of life, and a most important one --- perhaps THE most important one.  Old age, and perhaps some hardships which may come with it, is not to be rued; all stages of life have hardships; they just change in purpose --- and the lessons we can learn from them.
Each short chapter in this book (there are 40 of them) has a one word title.  A few talk about the past:  Regrets, Meaning, and Memories.  Some define change:  Ageism, Newness, and Letting Go.  And some speak to the importance of this stage of life:  Learning, Freedom, Wisdom, Spirituality, Forgiveness, and Legacy.
I liked the fact that early on Ms Chittister corrected some common misunderstandings about old age.  “Decrepitude and incapacitation that comes with age are, on average, only about the last three months of life.  Even then, studies assure us, mental clarity is more likely than not to remain to the end.”  On television, she notes, “the elderly of our time are portrayed as frail and bumbling creatures who dodder along doing nothing.”  Like much of television, it takes the situation of some and treats it as the norm of all.  (No, 50% of the population is not gay, nor even 5%, and although most television shows would depict it as a rare family indeed which does not have at least one gay person in it --- but this is not true.)
I liked many of the quotes which start most chapters of the book:
·         We turn not older with years, but newer every day.  (Emily Dickinson)
·         For the unlearned, old age is winter; for the learned, it is the season of harvest.  (The Hasadim say)
·         When physical eyesight declines, spiritual eyesight increases.  (Plato)
·         In youth we learn, in age we understand.  (Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach)
I especially liked the two chapters titled:  Adjustment and Letting Go:
“I begin to understand as never before that holiness is made of dailiness,
of living life as it comes to me, not as I insist it be.”
“We come into this world naked and alone,” a saying declares,
“and we leave it the same way:  naked and alone.”  (But), what
we meant to other people along the way, what we became inside,
along the way, that is really who we are.”
I liked this book; it should be read by anyone contemplating growing older or the value of your life.  I liked very much the conclusion of each chapter, which was a note about the burdens and blessings of “Growing Older Gracefully” --- a very positive note:
A burden of these years is that we must consciously
decide how we will live, what kind of person we will
become now, what kind of personality and spirituality
we will bring into every group, how alive we intend to be.
A blessing of these years is the invitation to go
lightfooted into the here and now --- because we
spend far too much of life preparing for the future
rather than enjoying the present.

            - - - - - - - - - -
For the friends who have noticed that I did no posting these past couple of weeks, I remind you that this is Spring in Michigan.  Now that the last chance of frost has passed (Please Lord!), I spent days planting my garden, tending to the yard, but I still have about 7 flats of flowers to plant.   (Things are looking better.)  Know anyone who wants to trim my hedge?  Trimming six foot of it yielded four bags of clippings; I dread to think what the other eighty foot will yield (or the work involved).
I had the deck repaired from damage caused by the extreme cold of the past winter, and repaired some of the damage caused by the Water Department when they changed the outside valves which were broken.  And I put my deck furniture out on the deck – and even spent a couple of hours relaxing there.
Ahh, Summer is arriving.
These things take time.  And I will take time for these things ---- as Joan’s book which I reviewed above recommended.

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