Among the many lines in Mary Pipher’s New York Times Op-Ed published last week, “The Joy of Being a Woman in Her 70s,” worth embroidering into samplers and hanging in our kitchens (or home offices), I felt, was this one: “…this pendulum between joy and despair is what makes old age catalytic for spiritual and emotional growth.”
Catalytic. What a delicious word. And what an intriguing image — of a pendulum swinging between joy and despair that is capable of spurring spiritual and emotional growth.
Mary Pipher, 72, best known for her New York Times #1 bestseller, Reviving Ophelia, is a clinical psychologist in Lincoln, Nebraska, and the author of ten books, including the just-published Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age (Bloomsbury), from which last week’s NYT Op-Ed was adapted. I have not yet read her newest book, but I intend to do so; and I’d urge WOW readers to do the same.
Pipher writes with precision and wisdom, as if each word, each sentence has the power to transform lives. (One of her books, in fact, is titled Writing to Change the World, which encapsulates her decades of experience as a writer and a therapist as well as her extensive knowledge of the craft of writing.) In every paragraph of her Op-Ed I found a sentence worth memorizing — or embroidering. Such as:
~ In America, ageism is a bigger problem for women than aging.
~ Those of us [older women] who grow do so by developing our moral imaginations and expanding our carrying capacities for pain and bliss.
~ Gratitude is not a virtue but a survival skill, and our capacity for it grows with our suffering.
~ Our happiness is built by attitude and intention.
~ There is an amazing calculus in old age. As much is taken away, we find more to love and appreciate.
~ We know that the joys and sorrows of life are as mixed together as salt and water in the sea.
~ Lucky women are connected to a rich web of women friends. Those friends can be our emotional health insurance policies.
~ The only constant in our lives is change. But if we are growing in wisdom and empathy, we can take the long view.
I’ve read Pipher’s Op-Ed many times now, slowly and carefully (I believe we all tend to read too rapidly these days), appreciating her wisdom — and wishing I could write about this subject as well as she. I especially appreciate that she doesn’t sugar-coat this challenging stage of life. It involves pain (as my sore back has been reminding me) as well as bliss, at the other end of the pendulum, and everything in between. I look forward to reading her books, her newest one in particular, because I see her as a guide. I’m sure you will too.
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[To learn more about Mary Pipher’s books, visit her website, www.marypipher.com . And to read her New York Times Op-Ed piece in full, please go to: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/12/opinion/sunday/women-older-happiness.html .]