Recently, I’ve been trying to read The Gift of Years: Growing Old Gracefully, by Joan Chittister.  I find it a very uneven book:  insightful in some places, it seems shallow or rigid in others.  I think I have finally put my finger on what bothers me about it.

In dealing with the many dimensions of this challenging journey of aging, Chittister often paints pictures of how one’s experience and understanding of  “Adjustment” or “Fulfillment”, or other topics, change.  In doing this, she frequently focuses on only one experience of the topic at hand–sometimes a very conventional one–and often in a way that suggests that it is this way for everyone.

Partly, this is a matter of her writing style, which is awkward, and veers from oddly poetic passages to descriptions of imagined lives that are not, in fact, very thoroughly, or humanly, imagined.

But the larger problem is that she fails to leave much room in the perspectives she presents for individual variations, and not enough room for real empathy or accompaniment.  The result is a sense of distance:  Too often, she may pin down just how a certain type of person encounters a certain issue, but there is no sense that she is there with that person, or with us, in dealing with this part of life.  The result of this distance is that she ends up presenting views of things that have very little, or no, room in them for movement, or for shared journey.

In living with others, and especially when we engage in the intentional nurturing of relationships between those of different culture, religion, or conviction, we need a perspecitve that has a lot of room in it.  Very often, those working to build or repair relationships are the ones who need to bring such a perspective.

In situations of conflict, alientation or estrangement, those involved often view their situation from a perspecitve that does not have much room, if any, for the others to change or welcome or understand.  The perspective that offers room to breathe and move and venture often has to come, at least at first, from an outsider.  Or, better, the view with room for the others emerges from some few gifted leaders, and can be supported by a relationship builder.

The view with room for the others is essential.  I don’t think real engagement or change is possible without it.

 

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