By the time I was 65 years old I had learned that happiness is a skill and a choice. One of the gifts of aging is that I understand how to intentionally look for humor, love, solitude, and beauty so that I can create a good day for myself. When the pandemic hit hard in early March, and my calendar was full of events that were not going to happen – a Chicago conference for celebrants where I was one of the workshop presenters; a gratitude dinner with ten women friends I was going to host for a woman that I admire; and a new bi-monthly workshop series I designed called “Food for Grieving People” – my disappointment was keen, at first. But it didn’t last long.
The well-worn pendulum of life that continually swings between joy and sorrow, proved once more to be the stimulant for my spiritual and emotional growth. It prompted me to ask myself a key question, “What really matters?” I realized that it was pretty simple: spending time with family, friends, and writing, reading, and cooking. By the second week in March, I had created “Nonna’s Kitchen” in which I prepared and delivered a home-cooked meal once a week for my grandkids, giving us a chance to communicate, briefly see one another, and enjoy good food (albeit separately) that always bring us closer. For about three months, until Indiana began to open, “Nonna’s Kitchen” was a primary source of joy and fulfillment for me, and another expression of the power of purpose in my life.
In the second half of life, we know something about facing life’s challenges; I believe there is a unique calculus in play during these years that acts like an antidote to loneliness and loss: the more that is taken from us, the more capacity we have for authenticity and gratitude. Our spiritual growth requires us to heal the grief that comes from our personal and national tragedies, and obliges us to integrate those losses fully into our wholeness as human beings.
Many of us have been inspired to see how a painful loss can be transformed into something that is life-giving. We have known raw grief and how it can make us question whether or not we will ever find life worth living again. But then gradually we’ve come to realize – not in spite of our loss but because of it – that we have emerged as a fuller woman with an expanded capacity, rooted in love, for bearing other people’s sorrows and joys. We may have started out broken-hearted, but we’ve learned that our hearts have been broken open, not apart.
Right now, our world is in desperate need of leaders who live what Socrates called an “examined life.” If you know yourself and you place a value on self-knowledge, you can help renew our country and our world as they are being remade before our eyes. The Greek root of the word “pandemic” is “to reveal” and we are each being shown the many cracks in our society; for example, in the unhealthy relationship between human beings and nature that harms the planet, destroys the environment, and sickens the very air we breathe. These cracks are vital because they let the light in. And it’s the light that will change the world, and it is fueled by the passionate purpose of women like us.
We are strong, competent, and capable of responding with resilience to the needs around us, in our homes, our neighborhoods, and our communities. We are equipped with the skills of nurturing, encouraging, inspiring, and co-creating. We know how to build inclusive circles of trust, to wear our empathetic hearts on our sleeves, and to work intentionally on behalf of what we care most deeply about. This is the way we source our joy and it brightens our outlook with hope, reassures us of our place in the world, and quiets our fears and anxieties. Joy reminds us that when we serve something greater than ourselves, it yields the most amazing contentment, gratitude, and humility that sustains us, even in the darkest hours.
With a nod to Judy Huge, a great teacher in a recent writers’ class I took, I want to tell you this: if your second half of life is a tree, and your purpose is only about you, then it has no branches. If your second half of life is only about the rest of the world, then it has no roots. The power of your purpose is only fully released when you wisely serve both the world and claim your own place in it as the sage, an elder of the tribe, and the wisdom keeper that you are.