Synopses & Reviews
Chapter OneWe Are Children of God
When I became sixty, the Daybreak community gave me a big party. More than one hundred people came together to celebrate. John Bloss was there, eager as always to play an active role. John is full of good thoughts, but his disability makes it painfully difficult for him to express these thoughts in words. Still, he loves to speak, especially when he has a captive audience.
With everyone sitting in a large circle, Joe, the master of ceremonies, said, "Well, John, what do you have to say to Henri today?" John, who loves the theatrical, got up, put himself in the center of the circle, pointed to me, and began to search for words. "You ... you ... are," he said with a big grin on his face. "You ... you ... are ... Uh ... uh . . ." Everyone looked at him with great expectation as he tried to get his words out while pointing ever-more directly at me. "You ... you ... are ... uh ... uh . . ." And then, like an explosion, the words came out. "An old man!" Everybody burst out laughting, and John basked in the success of his performance.
That said it all. I had become "an old man." Few people would say it so directly, and most would continue with qualifications about still looking young, still so full of energy, and on and on. John said it simply and truthfully: "You are an old man."
It seems fair to say that people between the ages of one and thirty are considered young; those between thirty and sixty are considered middle-aged; and those past their sixtieth birthday are considered old. But then you yourself are suddenly sixty, and you don't feel old. At least I don't. My teenage years seem only a short time ago, my years of studying and teaching feellike yesterday, and my seven years at Daybreak feel like seven days. Thinking of myself as "an old man" does not come spontaneously. I need to hear it announced loud and clear.
A few years ago a university student spoke to me about his father. "My dad doesn't understand me," he said. "He's so bossy, and he always wants to be right; he never allows any room for my ideas. It's difficult to be with him." Trying to comfort him, I said, "My dad is not very different from yours, but, you know, that's the older generation!" Then with a sigh, he said, "Yes, my dad is already forty!" I suddenly realized that I was speaking to someone who could have been my grandson.
Indeed, I somehow keep forgetting that I have become old and that young people regard me as an old man. It helps me to look at myself in a mirror once in a while. Gazing at my face, I see both my mother and my father when they were sixty years old, and I remember how I thought of them as old people.
Being an old man means being close to death. In the past, I often tried to figure out if I could still double the years I had lived. When I was twenty, I was sure that I would live at least another twenty years. When I was thirty, I trusted that I would easily reach sixty. When I was forty, I wondered if I would make it to eighty. And when I turned fifty, I realized that only a few make it to one hundred. But now, at sixty, I am sure that I have gone far past the halfway point and that my death is much closer to me than my birth.
Old men and old women must prepare for death. But how do we prepare ourselves well? For me, the first task is to become a child againto reclaim my childhood. This might seem to be opposite to our naturaldesire to maintain maximum independence. Nevertheless, becoming a child-entering a second childhood-is essential to dying a good death. Jesus spoke about this second childhood when he said, "Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 18:3).
What characterizes this second childhood? It has to do with a new dependence. For the first twenty or so years of life, we depend on our parents, teachers, and friends. Forty years later, we again become increasingly dependent. The younger we are, the more people we need so that we may live; the older we become, the more people we again need to live. Life is lived from dependence to dependence.
That's the mystery that God has revealed to us through Jesus, whose life was a journey from the manger to the cross. Born in complete dependence on those who surrounded him, Jesus died as the passive victim of other people's actions and decisions. His was the journey from the first to the...
“…a very comforting book. …Nouwen offers us here a gentle, almost meditative book on coming to terms with death.” Publishers Weekly
“Its a new way of looking at death, one with an upside.” Miami Herald
“One of my favorite ‘caregivers, Henri Nouwen challenges us to accept our death as part of our spiritual journey, not its end. …Nouwen continues to be a must read.” Capital Times
“On the long road its good to have Nouwen and his diving rod. Deftly he bends toward the drop of spiritual wisdom caked in the most ordinary things.” Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J., author of Dead Man Walking
One of the best-loved spiritual writers of our time takes a moving, personal look at human mortality. As he shares his own experiences with aging, loss, grief, and fear, Nouwen gently and eloquently reveals the gifts that the living and dying can give to one another.
One of the best-loved spiritual writers of our time takes a moving, personal look at human mortality.As he shares his own experiences with aging, loss, grief, and fear, Nouwen gently and eloquently reveals the gifts that the living and dying can give to one another.
From the author of The Wounded Healer and Letters to Marc About Jesus comes a critically acclaimed and deeply moving look at human mortality that reveals the essential gifts the living and the dying can give to one another.
One of the best-loved spiritual writers of our time—an author ranked with C.S. Lewis and Thomas Merton—Henry J.M. Nowuen, takes a moving, personal look at human mortality in Our Greatest Gift. A meditation on dying and caring, Our Greatest Gift gently and eloquently reveals the gifts that the living and dying can give to one another. The beloved bestselling author of With Open Hands, The Wounded Healer, and Making All Things New shares his own experiences with aging, loss, grief, and fear in this important and life-altering work.
About the Author
Henri J. M. Nouwen (1932-1996) is the author of Reaching Out, The Wounded Healer, Making All Things New, The Return of the Prodigal Son, and many other bestsellers. He taught at the universities of Harvard, Yale, and Notre Dame before becoming the senior pastor of L'Arche Daybreak in Toronto, Canada, a community where men and women with intellectual disabilities and their assistants create a home for one another.