Sunny side of the street
The need for sunshine, and rereading “Women Rowing North” by clinical psychologist Mary Pipher.
I have friends who actually like cloudy days. Not just overcast, but gray and damp. The drearier the better. “It softens the edges,” one says. “It’s cozy,” says another.
Those friends are nuts.
Remember that endless stretch of gray days we had earlier this year? Weeks and weeks of gray. I thought I would lose what’s left of my mind. I need sunshine and lots of it. This is the Sun Belt, and in Tulsa that means 230 days of sunlight every year. I want every one of them, more if I can get it.
After three days of cloudy weather, I get cranky. Four days and my energy drains until I drag around slower than a three-toed sloth. By the fifth day, I am an appliance that has been unplugged. No cheer, no enthusiasm, no hum. I lament the loss of beautiful sunsets. I wish I could stay awake. I whine to everyone I meet, even clerks in stores and strangers at the library.
I don’t know whether it was coincidence or providence, but it was in just such a leaden mood I picked up the new book “Women Rowing North” by clinical psychologist Mary Pipher. The subtitle is “Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age.” It’s written by a 70-year-old woman for women 60 and older. One review described it as “the bible of baby-boomer women.”
Almost all women in this age group have endured plenty of stress, loss, sorrow, hardships and loneliness. Not only do we face aging, we also hit ageism — an insidious discrimination of invisibility and cheap jokes. Just put us on an ice floe and push us out onto the Arkansas River, right?
No, this book tells us that it is this later period of life that offers the greatest opportunity for spiritual and emotional growth and joy. All we have to do is keep our wits about us and use the skills we have learned in life.
All we have to do.
Sure, easy for you to say, Ms. Pipher.
But she isn’t the only one saying it. Her book relates the stories of lots of women she has known and interviewed. We are a story-telling species, and this is an effective way to share women wisdom: This is what happened to Willa, Kestrel, Emma, Sylvia and more and how they reacted to it and what happened then. Instead of writing a textbook style instructional guide, she gives us real-life stories. It’s as if we are sitting around a great kitchen table. We know that’s where the real wisdom comes from.
Much of this is not new information, but it is information that we might have forgotten. It reminds us to recover skills we have mislaid. The book is dotted with clear, direct instructions, much like what our grandmother might have told us.
“Happiness is a skill and a choice.
“Attitude is not everything, but it’s almost everything.
“Gratitude is not a virtue, but a survival skill.
“The joys and sorrows of life are as mixed together as salt and water in the sea.”
Women have been trained to be caretakers for others. This older period of life is the time to learn how to take care of ourselves. We can become more honest and authentic. We can grow in wisdom and empathy. We can listen to our hearts. We can perfect “the art of vibrant living.”
This book tells us how to stop merely bobbing in the great river of life and navigate it purposefully. I thought, “I want to give this book to all my friends.”
Wait a minute. That’s back to the “caring for others” syndrome. What I need to do is reread it myself and put on a sunny face about gray days.