I have just read Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Niequist and Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age by Mary Pipher. I read them back to back. Shauna is 40 years old and Mary is 70. I’m closer to Mary’s age than Shauna’s. Both books were about living in a mindful grace-filled way which nourishes our hearts and bodies. Both are full of pearls of wisdom told through honest self-disclosure and humble humor. I wish I could have read Shauna’s book when I was forty and full of striving and hustling, addicted to achievement and faking perfection. This book is the wake-up call I needed then and still do. Father Richard Rohr is quoted as saying, “the skills that take you through the first half of your life are entirely unhelpful for the second half.” Shauna and I agree that neither of us have had healthy emotional skills from time to time, but there can be growth toward courageous living. This is where Mary’s book will be a valuable resource as I continue to age. She calls it a guidebook for us as we age to learn that “Everything is workable.” She addresses grief, how to recognize our own contentment, loneliness versus solitude, and familial changes.
Both women talk about making your own life- or remaking it. Mary says, “There are many lifetimes in a life.” Shauna writes, “This life you’re building is entirely your creation, fashioned out of your dreams and fears…The world will tell you how to live, if you let it. Don’t let it…This is your chance to make or remake a life that thrills you.” Mary says wisdom tells us the difference between who we are told we are and who we claim we are. Mary also speaks of rewriting our narrative, our story. She writes that we need to construct or reconstruct stories that help us flourish, that heal and empower us. She says, “We can explore our uncelebrated virtues and our survival skills.” Mary quotes Rebecca Solnit, “A few stories are sinking ships, and many of us go down with these ships even when the lifeboats are bobbing all around us…We think we tell stories, but stories often tell us, tell us to love or to hate, to see or to be blind. Often, too often, stories saddle us, ride us, whip us onward, tell us what to do and we do it without questioning.” This has me thinking of some narratives that need to be rewritten in my life.
One thing both women stress is the importance of friends, “heart to heart friends” is what Mary calls them. Friends, who walk our journey beside us, supporting us, reminding us who we really are, kind of friends. With Shauna, these friends are a lot of mothers of young children like her. With Mary, these friends help each other adapt to the changes of late middle age which include grieving a lost spouse or one’s health. She calls them “our first responders” in troubled times. One of the things that has amazed my grown daughter who has returned after 14 years away is the number of heart to heart friends I have. These are friends who have walked some hard miles with me, who have loved and encouraged me. I’m truly blessed by these friends, and I’m glad my daughter is here to see the treasure of these kind of friendships.
I have four pages of notes from these two books. Most are more appropriate for my journal than for a blog. These are those kind of books. You feel your awareness increase from page to page. These books are full of memorable quotes that are truly journal worthy, to savor time and again. Good food for thought in this second month of a new year.