Lately, I've been feeling closer to my age and realizing how much I rely on my women friends to help me navigate my way.
I was born about same year as Cher, Sally Field, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon and Dolly Parton, who serve as role models of how to stay relevant and interesting as they get older. Being over 70 for me seems to oscillate between nostalgia and shock, serenity and chaos, joy and outright terror. I somehow manage to find equilibrium by spending time with women friends, who have deep life experiences and insights and who really know how to laugh.
Women live, on average, 81 years and men just 76. Most people I know intend to live a lot longer... and I'll toast to that! I'm sure I was among the first Baby Boomers, born just a year after the end of the war. I spent a lot of time with Great Grandma Anna, who was the same age as Annie Oakley. At one time, she was a teacher in a one-room school near where I now live. As a Quaker, her life was simple and purposeful. Grandma Anna was still reading and crocheting, well into her 90's and died when she was 100 years old. Her daughter, Grandma Jessie, lived alone after grandpa died until she was 96. Both women had only a few friends and I don't remember either of them sipping wine, dancing or spending much time with other women.
But I think they were genuinely happy. It seems that if you're healthy and courageous, there's potential for deeply rewarding experiences in the process of growing older and if you're resilient, it could prove to be a fascinating time of life. My grandmothers serve as personal examples.
Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a noted Yale professor of psychology, talked about aging in Psychology Today. “It's not just about surviving, it's about flourishing. There is increasing evidence that most women feel a greater sense of fulfillment, self-actualization, reaching their peak- whatever you want to call it-as they grow older."
Mary Pipher would agree with this, as she writes in her new book about aging, Women Rowing North. Her recent, very wonderful opinion piece in the NY Times is entitled, The Joy of Being a Woman in Her '70's and it really resonated with me. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/12/opinion/sunday/women-older-happiness.html?fbclid=IwAR0Y1LTyBnpeSuxrntolAEEvJBAVPGTWKbAUJ5ovunIin3-SJ1fMktto69QThe
She reports that the happiest people in the country are older women. We're relaxed and not in such a hurry any longer. We aren't juggling families and careers and desperately looking to find balance. We've learned to manage our emotions and can set reasonable expectations for ourselves. We say "no" and live with the consequences. We can attract friends of all ages.
Pipher says that wisdom is our ability to tell our own stories, and gratitude is our most important survival skill. She warns that if we try to hold onto our youthful identities, we fossilize. But, if we can be authentic, accepting of our age and can take the long view of our lives, then old age can be a most rewarding time of life.
And we know that one key to aging well for women is spending time with friends. Friendships make our immune systems stronger, enhance our memories, help us recover from illness more quickly and even cause us to live longer. Our social networks are our lifelines to growing old.
We all feel so grateful for those dear friends we get to enjoy on a regular basis; the walks, the lunches, the phone calls, the group texts, time spent together in our friend circles and time in online communities. We've learned to feed each others' souls. And our long-term friendships bring us perspective. They've endured, despite changing circumstances and distances, gains and losses.
The other day, I was able to meet three friends for a long overdue lunch. I hadn't seen two of them for months. My fault. Being a full time caregiver to a 4 year old has distracted me from a lot of the social functions, exercise classes and traveling we did in the past. While I would never trade my present life, I was reminded again of the importance of women in my life. So, it was like a blast of sunshine on an overcast day to hear these women's laughter, check in on their interests and feel their hugs again.
A week earlier, I had the privilege to host a book reading by a dear friend. Our house was filled with interesting women, all there to support the one among us who is seeing her lifelong dream to write novel become a reality. Our shared joy, laughter and appreciation of her years of effort washed over us and lifted us all. Women supporting women. She has a beautiful website: https://somethingsburningpodcast.com You might want to check it out!!
So, as I get older, I'm quite sure I'll need women to talk with honestly and engage with deeply... far more than my grandmothers did. When I start to forget important stuff, I think my sisters and women friends will let me know. But, most of the time, we can pick up where we left off and leave one another feeling caught up and somehow rebalanced. Research suggests that the health impact of loneliness and social isolation is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Conversely, time with friends feels like the crisp, clear wind at our back, guiding us forward day by day, giving us courage to breathe it in more deeply and greet tomorrow's uncertainties.
So, here's to creating and sharing our own stories. In the photos that follow, I may be the only woman over 70 years old... and the only one with an Annie Oakley story to tell! Thanks friends!