A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I took a "road trip" to Billings. Nothing special, but it was time to "get out of Dodge". I had a couple of incidents that reminded me once again that I am now approaching the edge of life, the far end, that is. We were at the Yellowstone Art Museum. I walked up to the desk and asked the sweet young thing in charge what was their senior discount. I always ask because it is mine, the discount, and I've earned it. She asked, "Do you need the senior discount?" I promptly turned to my friend and announced, "This woman is my new best friend!" Another grey-haired lady who was also at the desk laughed with us while the young woman looked a trifle puzzled. Earlier we were at a department store at the mall where the cosmetic counter was advertising a new eye serum, guaranteed to reduce lines and bags under the eyes. I bought a bottle with the absolute assurance that using it faithfully, twice a day I would have amazing results. She didn't tell me how much younger I would look or how long it would take. But, hey! I'm game!
All of this is leading me to recommend a book which I think should be given out with your AARP card or first Social Security check. At a time in our lives when fears and anxieties can be central, when we really need some hand-holding, this is a handbook for living out the years of our lives with satisfaction, joy, and courage. Joan Chittister is a well-known author of books on spirituality. She takes her knowledge on that subject and combines it with a series of short essays on things that can be roadblocks to living well as we age. Currently I am in my third reading of the book and each time I learn something new because I am in a different place emotionally, physically and even spiritually. The title is "The Gift of Years: growing older gracefully." Noticing the title should be the first clue -- we are always growing older. Growing "old" is a different journey. One reviewer noted: "Chittister beautifully downplays regrets and accents the rewards of a mature life…she focuses on the new beginnings that life can offer at this stage. She invites us to embrace older age as a natural part of life that is both active and contemplative, productive and reflective, and deeply rewarding." Some of her subjects include fear, joy, transformation, possibility , relationships, letting-go, limitations, solitude, memories, faith and many more.
The very first subject she tackles is the most telling, I think, and that is 'regret'. She writes, "Regret is a temptation. It intices us to lust for what never was in the past rather than to bring new energy to our changing present." Each time I pick up her book to read a section I find myself nodding my head and thinking about past mistakes and joys as well as considering where I am right now.
Our society does not take much time to consider growing older. Oh, sure we joke about the aches and pains and grieve the losses, but it is supposed to be a time of dread. We say, "Oh, it is all downhill from here." Chittister's writing encourages us to look at this time of life with excitement, to celebrate the possibilities, and to fulfill undiscovered passions and to continue to approach life with joy.