Last Monday I posted my first in a series of reflections on Joan Chittister’s book, The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully. If you missed it, you can read “The Twinges of Regret” here. Today I’m continuing with another chapter in Chittister’s book, this one simply titled, “Joy.” It follows on the heels of “Ageism,” the chapter that precedes “Joy.” Both of these chapters address the choices we have to make as we approach retirement and beyond.
The reality is this: several of our close friends have retired recently. Yes. They are no longer gainfully employed. Several of them are under 65. My husband is 66 and still going strong. I’m turning 64 in a few weeks, but “retirement” will look different on me. After all, I’m a writer, and I can’t really imagine ever not being a writer. And the truth is, I’ll probably continue writing as long as my brain doesn’t get too twisted and tangled. But my reflection today isn’t so much about what to do with these coming years as it is how to be in them. Chittister says:
We can decide to live with joy…. If we decide to live this new, unscripted time with joy, then life will come pouring into us, almost more fully than we can sometimes bear…. This is the period for allowing ourselves to rejoice in the past that brought us to this point, as well as to revel in the possibilities that are present.
There was a terrific article in the New York Times last week by Oliver Sacks, professor of neurology at the New York University School of Medicine and the author of many books, including Awakenings. It’s called “My Own Life” – Oliver Sacks on learning he has terminal cancer. At 81 Sacks has already lived with cancer for nine years. But now he has a new incurable brand. And so he says:
It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can…. I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.
The whole essay is like this—full of joy. And, like Chittister, full of choice. Although health and circumstances may dictate some limitations in our twilight years, we still get to make choices. His short essay is filled with words like, “gratitude” and “love” and “detachment” and “adventure.”
As a writer, I am of course especially impressed that Sacks published five books between the ages of 65 and 80, and has completed an autobiography to be published this spring, so that will make six. Reading this makes 64 sound young and full of hope and promise! Some of the things Chittister says we can choose to do:
We can simply sit and watch a sunset, since we are not rushing home through traffic as the sun goes down.
We can decide to smile at everyone we meet, to play with children, to talk to seniors, to ask questions of youngsters—and this time to listen to their answers.
We can decide to give ourselves to those who have no one else but us to count on for quality of life themselves.
Yes, Birthday #64: bring it!