This year my birthday fell on the 10th day of the 10th month of the 10th year of the decade. I’ve never studied numerology – it just doesn’t light my fire - but I’m well aware that the number ten has gathered a collective energy that ranks high on the scale of all sorts of things like emotions; sex appeal; product reviews. Plus, ten can signify perfection or hell.
The days leading up to this unusual convergence of personal tens were steadily heading toward a great personal loss. Around midnight of 10/10/10, I received the email saying that one of the women I cherish most was being taken off life support. First came the tears, and the mourning; the sense of loss. Never again would hear her voice at the other end of the phone line, or see her smile when I entered a room. No more the irreverent glint that appeared in her eyes when the potential for mischief arose. We would never again share the secrets, the concerns, the prayers that women tell other women, nor would we walk arm in arm down the street.
In her 80s, she’d lived quite an extraordinary life. On her honeymoon, she slept in a palace and explored Jaipur on the back of an elephant. In Europe, she was on the cusp of elegance. As a hostess, nobody kept them laughing like she did. She could eat a pound of spaghetti and never gain an ounce. Above all, she loved her family. To her granddaughter, who loved the stories of a rosary toting fun-filled deb, she was known as ‘La Divina.’
Sitting up in the wee hours, I couldn’t help but think about how much she was a woman of her generation. Okay, she lived a life full of glamour and excitement, but in her later years, she talked about coming of age in the 40s; the toll it took. That side of her life was incredibly harsh. Like other women taught to follow the well-worn path of femininity she was warned of the risks, the isolation from family and friends that lay in choosing something more daring. Some women were braver than others. Many continued to hear the faint siren’s voice of what might have been, the silent longing for fulfillment on a deeper level. Some turned bitter rolling their desires into angry and sad packages of wishes and urgings they placed in the arms of their own daughters. It didn’t have to be that way, but more often than not, it just was.
After thinking about what I would miss about this dearest of women, I began to wonder if there wasn’t something I could give her, something in memory of her. The winds of unpredictability are blowing stronger than ever before. For women worldwide this seems to be particularly true. They advance and the demons that oppose change rise up to stop them. In the Middle East, it’s fundamentalist Islam, in the West, it’s also the fundamentalists. The people who just can’t seem to grasp that going back isn’t possible. What was once daring has become more satisfying. If that weren’t true we wouldn’t see so many young women getting college degrees.
If we’re going to do things that matter, whether it’s standing, walking or even while sitting in a wheelchair, we need to take more chances. It’s important to remember that Change Makers aren’t necessarily those who make great waves. They may be the quiet ones who carry light into dark corners so that others can find their way out. It doesn’t require being rich, climbing mountains, or building an empire. There are always slots for you to fill at 50, 60, 70 and beyond. Older women who dare have much to offer; their experience, their survival skills, their collection of stories. Being a Female Change Maker is a state of mind and spirit and the rewards are immense. If you’re interested here are important things to help:
1. Honor differences.
2. Practice compassionate communication.
3. Be intellectually hungry and seek out big ideas.
4. Laugh a lot.
5. Forget about the due dates society imposes on age.
6. By now you’ve stumbled, fallen and got up again. You CAN do it again.
7. Don’t be judgmental. Cultivate forgiveness.
8. Listen for the echoes. If more than one person is telling you something, there may be some truth in it.
9. Listen for the good stories, the ones that inspire and offer solutions. Then pass them forward.
10.Honor your wrinkles; they’re stripes of service to life.
11.Build on what you know, but be ready to modify or create something you’ve only dreamed about.
12. Hang onto your hat; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Do you have any other ideas to add to this list? Please share!
(Here’s looking at you, C. The stories, the laughter, the times we shared and the love you gave me are tucked in close to my heart.)