Growing Old Gracefully

"The Gift of Years" by Joan Chittister provides insight into aging.

At the risk of being charged with blasphemy, let me say that for more than 50 years I was bored silly watching major league baseball on television. What did my dad see in a Milwaukee Brewer pawing the ground in the batters’ box, or the pitcher wiping his forehead, palming a baseball and occasionally scratching his bum? Sure, home runs were sort of exciting but mostly the game seemed to be a long exercise in waiting for something to happen.

Things have changed. Mostly, I suspect, it is my new appreciation for baseball players’ skills, but a lot of the change is due to my age and a sort of boredom with life. “There’s nothing to do” is not only the mantra of school children after two weeks of summer vacation. Now I watch Blue Jays, Yankees and Dodgers. There must be more to the golden years than baseball, however.

A nun discusses aging

I suggest small groups pick up The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister, especially but not exclusively for the ‘greying church.’ This book is also for “those who are concerned about their parents and the kinds of issues older age may be raising in them.”

Chittister is a Benedictine nun, writer and speaker. Known for her sometimes controversial work on women’s issues, in this book she addresses what happens when those who – “[know] themselves to be young and healthy” – are surprised by notices sent to ritired people, and begin to receive seniors’ discounts. They are suddenly, it seems, cursed by an abundance of time with no life goals to spur them on.

Chittister, like several other popular sociologists and theologians, points out that we might see life as composed of two parts, each with its specific tasks. Younger people establish families, pursue careers and are bound by necessities. In later years, retired people may find a freedom, a freedom composed of “the exemption from having to live standard-brand life. [They] no longer need to ‘fit in’ to all the conventional wisdom, to the company policies and politics and political positions. . . . [they] can be a socialist in a Republican [read Conservative] club. . . .”

The book is arranged around general topics like fear, freedom, authority, relationships and fulfillment. The chapters are short – often about ten pages. They are related but can be read and discussed in any order. Each begins with an insightful quotation and ends with summary statements about the burdens of these years and the blessings of them.

Better than the Blue Jays

If, like me, you are looking for something other than watching the Blue Jays, if you are looking for ways to appreciate the “second half of life” or to grow in wisdom, try reading and discussing this book.

And in your discussions remember Richard Rohr’s adage: “If you talk too much or too loud, you are usually not an elder.”


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