Magazine article The Human Life Review

Rich in Years: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Long Life

Magazine article The Human Life Review

Rich in Years: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Long Life

Article excerpt

RICH IN YEARS: FINDING PEACE AND PURPOSE IN A LONG LIFE Johann Christoph Arnold (The Plough Publishing House, 183 pp., 2013, $12 paperback)

Reviewed by Ellen Wilson Fielding

Author Johann Christoph Arnold is a lifelong member of the Bruderhof, a smallish Christian community of about 2,600 members worldwide. It was founded by his father in Germany in 1920 and is marked by a radically communal, Book-of-Acts way of living. Arnold himself was bom in England after his family fled the Nazis; they then moved first to Paraguay and eventually, when Arnold was 15, to New York State.

Arnold, then, is no stranger to swimming against cultural currents, either by inheritance or life circumstance. Over the years he has countered a variety of publicly propagated evils, including racial discrimination in the 1950s and 1960s and, in the post-Roe era, various forms of pro-life and pro-family work, including a very moving book on the need to forgive those who have wronged us, Seventy Times Seven: The Power of Forgiveness.

His most recent book, Rich in Years: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Long Life, recognizes his own passage across the borderland of old age (he is now approaching his mid-70s and dealing with some health problems). His aim in writing was to present a variety of personal and, yes, countercultural examples of the search for meaning in the frequently shadowed years of our gradual decline towards death.

This is a brief, plain-spoken, and heavily anecdoctal book-indeed, its great strength lies in presenting the stories of real-life people who grapple with illness, loss, retirement, decreased mobility, chronic and debilitating health conditions-in fact, the full gamut of diminishment that can be experienced in the final decades of life.

Arnold groups his story-studded reflections in chapters devoted to the major tasks of our own personal "end-times": "Growing Older," "Accepting Changes," "Combatting Loneliness," "Finding Purpose," "Keeping Faith," "Living with Dementia," "Moving Forward," "Finding Peace," "Saying Goodbye," "Continuing On," and "Beginning Anew." The chapter titles themselves are teaching tools for old age: Each starts with a verb, as if to remind us that age like every other stage of human life presents us with things to do, even if the "doing" in question is actually admitting to ourselves (and, perhaps more difficult, to others) that there are things we can no longer do, whether driving a car or living alone, or, for those sidelined to wheelchairs, walking. …

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