Other cultures esteem, cherish, and care for older folk as treasured transmitters of tradition and disseminators of wisdom. Here, not so much. Even though I’m not all that old (until September, anyway), I can already feel the hints at marginalization – just like I felt when I told people I’d chosen to stay home to raise my children. As if parenting and senescence immediately negate anything else that makes a person interesting or valuable at a cocktail party - or in society.
It therefore delights me to travel in three spheres with women older than I who actively defy negative stereotypes of aging and whom I admire and respect.
- Book Group: This website’s editor gave me a great gift when she entrusted me with the helm of the book group she’d been leading. We meet monthly to discuss current and classic fiction. The women, numbering nearly twenty at our last meeting, are well read, erudite, and urbane. I prepare some research and a set of discussion questions as a launch pad, but they take off, bringing viewpoints and observations that make every single meeting a thorough, thoughtful literary adventure.
- Knitting: This group of intrepid craftswomen meets weekly at the Westport Center for Senior Activities to knit, nibble, and kibbitz. While we sit in a circle and create healing shawls for chemo patients at local infusion centers, we talk about life: family, food, love, sex, money … and sometimes, even politics. I am the baby of the group; some of the women are near or well into their nineties. I love listening to them reminisce, and appreciate their advice, culled and shaped over many years of tumbling over and circumnavigating life’s stumbling blocks. They can slap a problem into perspective before I’ve managed to make it through another row of knitting.
- Yoga: Two of my favorite instructors are in their eighth decade. They are both spiritually awakened, kind, and thoughtful women. They – whose flexibility and agility remains enviable – approach life off the mat much as they do their practice on the mat: mindfully, and with compassion. They ground and center me as they simultaneously lift me up.
I feel very lucky to have these three special groups of wise women in my orbit. They bring intellectual challenge and stimulation, model mental and emotional balance, and keep my on my toes physically. They help me prioritize problems and devise solutions. Individually and collectively, they make my life richer and reinforce the value of other cultures’ reverence for elders.