Women Together in All Stages of Life
I sometimes think about the way other cultures have acknowledged and even valued every stage of a woman’s life and have aided women through all their passages. I think many of us living in Western societies have gone through a time of dismay and even mourning that this kind of community among women may not be available right at hand for us. In the process of mourning the loss of something we’ve never exactly known but we’ve known would be nourishing if it were present — we’ve sought out our own precious communities of women. Some of us have found the support of other women among fellow homeschoolers, some in writers’ groups, some in quilting or other handicraft groups, in musical groups, in Yoga or exercise classes, in religious practice, at our places of work, and a few have been blessed with wonderful extended families, rich with marvelous women of all ages. Some of us have discovered to our surprise and amazement a circle of love in the reputedly cold, ephemeral, impersonal world of the internet. Friendships forged out of pixels have become dear flesh and blood bonds over time as we meet together for the first, second, and more times. We’ve managed over our lifetimes to put together a lovely patchwork of women we can count on from all kinds of places. Women are truly resourceful.
At my own mid-life point I began to give thought to the marginalization of aging women and the way that our society tends to disenfranchise us as the signs of age accumulate on face and body. I look around me for women who have walked this way before me for some direction. What does an intelligent, independent-thinking older woman look like? What does she look like when she values her own path yet cherishes community? How does a woman like this express her spiritual mindedness, both in solitude and among others? How does someone age and still continue to affirm life? How can maturity be celebrated in ways that are life-enhancing? As in my younger years I had to seek out friends and mentors where I could find them and sometimes I found them in unexpected places — I continue to look for older women who walk in grace and compassion, whose lives are rich and full of wisdom regardless of status or circumstance.
Moving through midlife and beyond (into Adulthood II, as Mary Catherine Bateson calls it when we move out beyond traditional midlife), I’ve begun to encounter the stillness and quietude that was hard to come by as a young mother. In the stillness I’ve been able to ask questions and try to make sense of bewildering things, or at least to develop inner peace about things that may never make sense in this life. There were times as a younger mother that I felt I’d never have the space to be able to string two thoughts together. Sometimes I still have those times. But having had a taste of stillness, I seek it more actively now.
Now, I’ve begun to ask myself: as women who are growing older, is there a place for us to teach, to create works of art that bless our own selves and others, to express the compassion that comes from long life? If there isn’t, will we have the strength and commitment to create communities that will be enriched by what we have to offer? I refuse to bind to myself the cultural phobias about aging and I want to find ways to approach the next stage of life in full humor and grace.
I’m seeking guides who have passed this way in inner beauty, humor, and wisdom. I’m doing what I can to build a community of like-minded women around me as I go. I know that we can make a difference in the culture this way. It may not be a huge, widespread change but I know that it will happen, just as those of us who decided to raise our children differently 20 and 30 years ago have made a difference. We decided that we wanted to birth them gently, nurse them until they were ready to stop, permit them to grow up beside us in the heart of the home, and teach them in freedom. None of these things were necessarily easy to do. We were told that our alternative birthing methods might take their lives, our alternative feeding methods would rob them of their independence, and our alternative educational philosophies would take away their opportunities for any success or productivity in life. Some of us have lived long enough to see that these fearful admonitions were just that — fearfulness — none of these things have come to pass. Some of these things which we’ve endeavored for, in fact, have impacted society outside of our immediate circles in positive and skillful ways. I feel with certainty that seeking a positive and celebratory vision of maturity will bear wonderful fruit and will profoundly bless many. Certainly these things will help not only us but our sons and daughters who have their eyes upon us and who may draw from our examples a nourishing way of life for their own journey into the far reaches of adulthood. This is something to look forward to.
Bateson, Mary Catherine. (2010). Composing a further life. New York: Knopf.