Is there a road map to aging?
Several of my friends have just left my living room where we discussed Mary Pipher’s latest book, “Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age.”
We wondered if the author would provide some insight into the type of oars we should purchase to go along with our rowboats.
The book discussion participants, all between the ages of 65 and 75, were married, divorced, widowed and remarried. Some were childless and some were grandmothers. All of us agreed we enjoyed reading the book, but we didn’t learn much that was new.
Dr. Pipher believes the most important relationship an aging woman has will always be with herself. She writes, “We can slowly train ourselves to think in stories that allow us to flourish. Stories of joy, kindness, and courage empower us …”
Basically the theme of this narrative is that we can find gratitude and a sense of wonder in the smallest of moments because at our age, we have already survived so many turns and twists in the river.
“One of the greatest gifts of old age is the loss of ‘false selves’ carried earlier in the journey, and the emergence of a whole and authentic self,” Pipher writes.
I remember thinking that my life was over when my fiancé dumped me. I thought I could never find a career or a job that made me happy. That if I only had more money, I would be happy.
I learned to love again, lived to marry and bear children, and to retire from a successful career. Now that my children have their own lives, there is an opportunity for the real me to emerge.
Our group talked about how marriage sometimes interferes with our authentic self. We can obsess over a partner’s behavior. But we came to the conclusion that now we are older, we are bolder about asking others for help and telling family members how we really feel.
We now have “emotional resiliency” and “intentionality,” some of the factors of what Pipher uses to define happiness. We won’t let anyone bully us. We can decide what makes us happy. Take up pottery, painting or dog sitting – whatever fills that space in our hearts or in our minds.
One thing we all agreed on was that our mothers did not have the good fortune to take control over their lives. They were dependent upon their husbands. Financial security does help one age better! It helps one age, period. Having access to and money for medical treatment can mean your ship won’t sink altogether.
The women in our group all felt that they take better care of themselves than men. Of course, there were not any men in our discussion group, so we have no data to support our findings. We know what we have experienced.
One of our ladies is receiving cancer treatments and is facing many side effects. Sometimes hourly. She has always had a positive attitude toward life, but it has been more difficult lately. She says she still relies on her sense of humor.
Aging is challenging. We have seen the rapids. No doubt there will be more rough seas ahead. We have no control over most everything.
So I love this book’s last sentences: “Let us embrace everything. This can be our rescue as we navigate this last stretch of the river with its treacherous currents, quicksand, deep clear waters, and silver sunsets.” The sunsets have been spectacular lately, don’t you think?
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