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1000 Words on Aging

Being 61 is not what I expected…though I don’t know that I could tell you, with any degree of specificity, what I did expect. I’ve never given it much thought; at least not in practical or concrete ways.

I have friends who have been super intentional about planning for their future; others who are afraid of it. Both ends of this spectrum feel alien to me. I’ve barely considered savings or retirement, have not stuck with a job long enough to accumulate much in 401ks, and rarely-if-ever reflect on the “what-ifs” that could yet exist – whether related to the economy, my health, or the circumstances of my life (not to mention the world).

I’m not suggesting this approach (or lack thereof) to aging is a good one, simply that I’m now here and constantly surprised by what it looks like, what it feels like, what I look and feel like!

The reality of aging, of being “old,” has always felt incredibly distant, like mist and shadow, a someday I’ve not planned for or given much attention.

Whether I’ve prepared for it or not, had expectations of it or not, it is clearly here – at least according to the world around me. I cannot spend more than 60 seconds on Facebook or Instagram without being bombarded by posts, reels, and ads for miracle skincare regimens, exercise programs for women “my age,” and clothing for the “mature” woman. I rarely fall prey to such messages, but still, they take their toll – subliminally (and blatantly) reminding me that if I don’t do something (translate: buy something), I’m going to fade into obscurity, that “more” is required of me to remain viable and valued, that I’m not enough.

*sigh*

Despite the fact that I don’t give cultural messages/demands much credence, that doesn’t mean they have evaporated from my consciousness. Especially when I look in the mirror. 

Old habits die hard. I remember staring into that glass as a teenager, wishing/praying that I looked different and better, sure that the latest makeup application technique in Seventeen magazine would change my life. I have known long seasons of getting dressed in the morning and offering my reflection nothing but scathing critique for its weight, shape, and very being. These days, most days, I lean as close to the mirror as I can and most-definitely see aging’s evidence in visceral form. I am reminded, yet again, that this IS my reality. I see it in my very face. But unlike decades before, I can (almost) let go of a lifetime’s demands – internal and external – and just be.

I could never have imagined that “old” age would be the thing that invites me to fuller self-acceptance, wholeness, and love.

Alongside the unexpected assimilations into this “age,” are grace-filled perspectives I couldn’t have foretold; ways of looking at, even experiencing life that I couldn’t have predicted or dreamed when I was younger. 

My two daughters are now in their 20s. I watch them ask so many hard questions of themselves and their reality – ravenous for clarity, certainty, and dreams fulfilled. They wrestle with unmet expectations – the trials of “being a grown up,” paying bills, making money (or not), being in relationships (or not), and figuring themselves out. In varying forms and contexts, I hear them saying, “It shouldn’t be this hard!”

Whether I watch from afar or get far too enmeshed, I am subsumed by memories of what my life looked like when I was their age, all that I wanted and didn’t have, had and didn’t want, and thought would never change. It was hard! And I am surprised, yet again, when I realize that all the things they are feeling and experiencing right now ARE NOT what I feel and experience AT ALL anymore.

It’s stating the obvious: I am not in my 20s! I have lived decades and made it through many seasons of unknowing and frustration. I have survived – along with massive mistakes and profound heartbreak and upsetting setbacks and incredible growth. I have actually lived to tell the story. I see how fate follows its course, how life does go on. And in the midst, how I have not only survived, but become a woman I am proud of. Here. Now. 61.

Finally, perhaps more unexpected than anything I’ve named thus far, is this:

Over and over again I am surprised by the spaciousness of the present and what it feels like to stay right here, right now. It is unexpected, expansive, and generous. 

61, in and of itself, is hardly distinct or significant. Soon I’ll be 62 and eligible for early withdrawal of Social Security benefits! Then I’ll be 65, 70, and then some. Though I anticipate more changes ahead, more things I can’t possibly predict, there’s no “out there” or threshold or “someday” that I’m reaching for. I’m just here. Right here. Right now. This body, this mind, this heart, this life. It’s amazing.

You could not have convinced me, whether 10, 20, 30, or 40 years ago, that there would ever be a time in which I would feel at home in my own skin, that I would not feel lacking, that I would be able to rest from the tyranny of past and future, others’ (and my own) expectations, the dull ache of discontent and demand that has permeated so much, too much, of my life.

Perhaps that’s what all of this is about: nothing of what I expected, endlessly surprised, more than enough. This could have been just as true at 21, 31, 41, and 51, but I didn’t have the wisdom or perspective or years-lived to appreciate it like I do now. And that IS the point…

I appreciate it all.

About the quiet and silence.

 

So often, I talk about a woman’s voice and courage and sovereignty. Yours. Mine. Ours. It matters. It is what I’m passionate about and committed to. And. All of these realities, these ways of being, are profoundly strengthened when we choose, revel in, and allow silence.

I was inspired to write about this via an article in the Atlantic and this quote:

“In a world of so many traumas and terrors, I am desperate for silence. It is not escapism, not always. It is about meeting oneself. The way you might encounter yourself in the silence of, say, journaling, is distinct from how you reflect in the public arena. In silence, a certain veil is lifted. We might realize that the rage we feel in public is born from fear or despair in private. Healing is a very quiet thing. In the silence, we can wrap our wounds. There are times when taking shelter is a noble thing to do.” ~ Cole Arthur Riley

(I immediately downloaded her book: This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories that Make Us)

Silence “not as escapism,” but about “meeting oneself.”

How beautiful are these words? 

“In a world of so many traumas and terrors, I am desperate for silence. It is not escapism, not always. It is about meeting oneself.”

We often fear that if we’re not taking a stand and speaking up and constantly talking about all of the “traumas and terrors,” that we must be trying to escape; we are evading what requires our attention and looking the other way. And though that may sometimes be true, more times than not, it’s not.

There is a lot going on: the stories happening in our world and the oft’ excruciating stories in our own personal world. As I’ve named before, it can be difficult to let ourselves feel all of it — to name what we feel, to give ourselves permission to feel, to believe that the sky will not fall when we do. It is far easier to stay busy, to distract ourselves, and to allow “noise” to overtake the quiet.

But in such times, silence is what we need more than anything. It’s how we hear ourselves think. It’s how we name — with honesty and courage — what we truly feel and why. It’s where we actually feel — at least in part. It is, indeed, about “meeting oneself.”

And it is not escapism when you allow this, when you choose this, when you prioritize this. It’s intentionalism. It’s sacred. It’s necessary.

Why journaling matters and why, for me, it gets prioritized above nearly all else.

Again, let’s return to Cole Arthur Riley’s words: “The way you might encounter yourself in the silence of, say, journaling, is distinct from how you reflect in the public arena. In silence, a certain veil is lifted. We might realize that the rage we feel in public is born from fear or despair in private.”

Exactly. We MUST have a place that is ours alone, quiet but for our own voice; safe, secure, and completely vulnerable — with no risk at all. 

Oh, that we could know this in relationship with others, that we could trust that our every thought would be allowed, welcomed, not “fixed,” argued, or requiring defense. I used to believe that such a thing was possible…even mine by right. I also used to believe that it was for-sure my fault that I didn’t have relationships like that. It didn’t occur to me for a very long time that I was the one to give this to myself. 

*****

There was a season in my marriage where I picked journaling back up after a hiatus of a few years because I needed a place to process all that was hard, everything that made me so angry I could hardly see straight (but never acknowledged out loud), the long list of things I wished was different.

I kept a 3-ring notebook just under my side of the bed. College ruled paper. My favorite pen. First thing in the morning, before the girls woke up, I’d pour myself a cup of coffee, climb back into bed, pull it out and write. It never occurred to me that my then-husband would ever read it. But one day, in the midst of another painful conversation, I realized that he had been. I was furious. I was exposed. And most of all, I was ashamed. Ashamed that I had any thoughts or feelings that I wasn’t willing to let him see and know.

I know better now. I know that every one of my thoughts and feelings were legitimate and allowed. I know that the shame never belonged to me. And I know that were it not for that silent-and-sacred space (sans it being violated), I wouldn’t have been able to hear me, to make hard choices, or begin to see — with increasing clarity and strength — what was calling to me.

*****

Now, almost every morning, after pouring a cup of coffee, I sit down at my laptop and let myself ramble for an hour. Sometimes it’s just that: rambling. I articulate what I did the day before, what’s coming up in my schedule, a snippet of a dream from last night. Sometimes it’s a response to my inner critic or my fear — letting them speak instead of pushing them away. Sometimes it’s something I’m worried about related to my daughters or money or any number of other pressures I feel at times. Sometimes it’s about my spirituality, my beliefs, my questions, my doubts. Sometimes it’s the way that I work out what I want to write and why I’m even doing it in the first place. And always, with about 15 minutes left, I turn over the next card in my deck and wonder what woman-and-wisdom will show up to speak directly to what I’ve just written and expressed. (It’s amazingly perfect and profound. Every time. I still can hardly believe it.)

I also know this: especially when it is not safe to name and express your deepest feelings, your truest truths, you must have a place that is. Journaling offers that. (With, of course, the caveat that it IS safe. You should know: my journaling immediately switched to a password-protected document on my computer from that point on.)

You deserve and need a place in which you can say any and everything, in which you can rant and rage, in which you can wish and hope and dream. You deserve and need a place in which you can wander without direction and process without answers. You deserve and need a place in which you can, as Riley says above, lift the veil and encounter yourself. 

It’s quiet there: silence that is blessed and expansive and healing…

How “healing is a quiet thing” and enables us to “wrap our wounds.”

Again, how beautiful are these words?

In the context of the story I shared above, it was only in silence that I could hope to heal from that betrayal. Talking about it with him (which is what he wanted) only left me feeling more raw and exposed. Stepping back, choosing silence, and giving myself permission to be quiet, to not speak, was what allowed me to heal (eventually), and, over time, what enabled me to build the strength I needed to leave.

That’s but one example. There are many, many more. But far more important than my stories, are yours.

What reality, experience, or current struggle comes to mind that deserves healing? What wound is waiting to be wrapped — with a steady hand and a generous heart…yours on your own behalf? What spaciousness and quiet are you intentionally giving yourself for all of this and then some? (These might just be questions worth journaling through.)

Inviting the quiet in, letting the silence “speak,” will offer you exactly the wisdom you desire (and deserve). It’s how you hear that know-that-you-know-that-you-know voice within. ‘Promise.

Can we know when to choose silence and when to speak?

My quick answer: Probably not — at least with failsafe certainty.

My longer answer: Yes. Definitely.

I return to exactly what I named above: that know-that-you-know-that-you-know voice within. It speaks to you all the time. It knows of what it speaks. It can be trusted. You can be trusted.

Your own wisdom (which you can hear in the quiet) tells you that silence is the right thing, right now: that your voice does not need to be front and center, that more healing is required (and deserved), that other voices must be given attention, respect, and volume.

Your own wisdom (which you can hear in the quiet) tells you that silence is NOT the right thing; that it is actually preventing you from being heard, seen, known, and yes, sovereign. It’s no longer tenable. It’s no longer tolerable. It’s time.

Your own wisdom (which you can hear in the quiet) tells you that your voice is exactly what is needed and the most perfect-and-powerful thing you can bring and trust and use in this very moment. Definitely.

We can know when to choose silence and when to speak when we’ve given ourselves enough silence, enough space, enough quiet to discern exactly this! I could keep talking, keep writing, but that pretty much defeats the point of what I’m attempting to say, yes?

I’ll conclude with one more paragraph from Cole Arthur Riley (definitely read the article; it’s so good!):

“Audre Lorde famously said, “Your silence will not protect you.” This wisdom has been taken to the extreme. To be silent is to be complicit, people (including myself) have said. This can be true. There is certainly a silence born of cowardice, a silence that emboldens oppressors. But sometimes to be silent is to finally become honest. To halt the theater. In the quiet, we at last hear the sound of our own interior world. The pain or numbness. The guilt. The nothing at all.

And I would add, the deepest, most reliable wisdom that endlessly dwells within. Within you.


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About the Ocean and Anguish

I’ve spent a lot of time at the beach lately. As soon as we arrive, my 9-year-old niece Grace, runs to the water, her dad not far behind. And there she stays — for hours — letting the waves carry her or crash into her; she doesn’t care which. All she wants is to be as “in them” as much as she possibly can.

Me? Not so much. I’m more of a shore girl. I position my reclining chair just so — making sure I directly face the sun. I rummage through the huge bag I’ve brought with me for a towel, sunglasses, my Diet Coke, and maybe (sometimes) the sunscreen. It’s hot and I’m restless. I get out my phone, but the glare of the sun is too bright to read the screen. I dig for the book I brought, but then decide that the white pages are going to hurt my eyes. So I watch Grace — out there in the water — while I try and sit still in the sand. 

I wonder about this: the chosen “safety” of the shore, the restlessness that sometimes overwhelms, the seeming-inability to just be, to let the waves carry me or crash into me, to let myself feel all of it. (I’m not talking about the water or the beach anymore; rather, about emotions.)

This business of “being” with our emotions — whether they carry us, crash into us, or both — is hard. 

Life is hard! And right now? When everything feels out of control, when bad stuff happens to good people, when wars persist, when Supreme Court rulings are overturned, when school shootings occur yet again, when the NRA meets anyway, when the most paid-attention to news is about a celebrity…it is WAY easier to think about all of these things than to feel them. 

Our emotions are overwhelming. Too much, even. We don’t know what to do with all that we feel, so not feeling seems a better and maybe even safer/saner alternative. It’s like picking the beach chair over the waves. Slightly more stable. A bit easier to control. A known entity.

Still, those waves, the power of the ocean, being small in something so very big, letting go…It pulls at me sometimes. Like the tide.

When I first began working with a therapist, it wasn’t long before he asked, “When do you grieve, Ronna? How do you rage?” (Notice: not “if,” but when and how!)

“I don’t.” 

“But so much of what you’re telling me deserves those emotions, don’t you think?” 

“I don’t know how to do that. And I’m afraid that if I start, I’ll never stop. The people in my world cannot handle me falling apart. I would be way too much.”

Over time (and with extreme patience), he began to suggest ways to let go of those set-in-stone beliefs, let go of my tight grip on NOT letting myself feel. It felt incredibly dangerous, tenuous, like a tidal wave about to crest, certain havoc. But I trusted him and tried. It was hard. It was scary. And shockingly, the world did not come screeching to a halt, nor did anyone drown (both of which I was certain would occur).

These days, things are incredibly dangerous, tenuous, like a tidal wave about to crest — barreling down on us. How are we to take it all in? What are we to do? What can we do, really? It all feels so hopeless. And we feel so helpless. 

In Atlas of the Heart, Brené Brown describes this as anguish. (It’s a long quote, but well worth reading.)

“Anguish is an almost unbearable and traumatic swirl of shock, incredulity, grief, and powerlessness…The element of powerlessness is what makes anguish traumatic. We are unable to change, reverse, or negotiate what has happened. And even in those situations where we can temporarily reroute anguish with to-do lists and tasks, it finds its way back to us. 

“…we can convince ourselves that we’re okay and keep ourselves upright by hanging our crumpling anguish on rigidity and perfectionism and silence, like a wet towel hanging on a rod. We can become closed off, never open to vulnerability and its gifts, and barely existing because anything at any moment could threaten that fragile, rigid scaffolding that’s holding up our crumpling selves and keeping us standing.” 

As I read her words for the umpteenth time, I think that maybe, sometimes, it’s OK to let the scaffolding fall, to step into the waves and let them carry us and crash into us. It’s OK, even critical and healing and transformative, especially during these times, to let ourselves grieve and rage, to feel everything.

May it be so. 

Women Know Everything

My sister bought me a book a few weeks back: Women Know Everything! 3241 Quips, Quotes and Brilliant Remarks by Karen Weekes

I thought about posting a few quotes from within, offering you some of my favorites, inspiring you with the beauty and wisdom of other women. Instead, another plan…

1) Sit with the title of the book alone.
Women Know Everything! What are the very first thoughts that come to mind? How do you feel about your thoughts? Where do those thoughts and feelings take you? Follow them…

2) Take it a step further and say out loud: “I know everything!”
Pay attention to what happens within our own heart and mind when you say these words. What emotions show up? What kind of resistance do you feel, exactly? Are you validated? Do you feel arrogant in saying such a thing? Doubtful? Like an imposter? Do you hear the defiant shout within: “Finally! And exactly!”? Do you laugh? Do you feel wistful, defensive, angry, grateful? Every one of these is worthwhile, telling, and true! (More to explore, to be sure!)

3) Finally (though hardly), think about the question, situation, challenge, or struggle that is closest in mind and heart for you right now.
Got it? Now, whisper gently to yourself: I already know. I already know. I already know. Deep breath. This is true.

Of course, there is always more for us to learn. But along the way and in this moment, you can lean on and into the perfect-and-complete-and-trustworthy knowing that is yours. Right now. At this time. And in perfect measure. (I KNOW I’m right about this!)

May it be so.


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4 Things I Want You to Know

As you undoubtedly know, I spend countless hours (decades, really) in the midst of ancient, sacred stories of women. And I persist because, bottom line, this is what I believe:

We need these stories. We need these women. And we deserve them: muses, mentors, companions, even midwives who call us forth and birth us into the lives that are ours to claim, to live, to love.

I believe this, as well:

The more value and worth we give to any woman’s story, the more value and worth we give to our own. 

I do believe these things. Deep in my bones. But that hardly means I always (even often) feel confident about a bit of it. My inner critic gets the better of me more days than not. I sit in front of this screen and wonder if what I’m thinking and writing makes any difference at all. I question whether I’ll ever get the manuscript finished and if it will matter a whit once I do. And I know that every single one of these thoughts are lies from the pit of hell…

The beauty, gift, and miracle in all of this is that no matter how far I wander down this less-than-honoring rabbit trail, the stories — the women themselves — bring me back to myself. It’s astonishing and miraculous and humbling. And so, I persist. 

What follows is the tiniest glimpse into just one of the stories I’m (re)visioning. I’m hopeful it will bring you back to yourself — no matter your doubts, your inner critic, your questions, your fears; that you will see just how much value and worth YOUR story holds; how much value and worth YOU have — today and every day, all the time.


Once upon a time there was a pharaoh who was paranoid about the population growth of his slaves. He feared that if something wasn’t done about it that they would eventually overtake him. Fed up with this, he called two midwives into his presence and commanded that they kill every boy-child birthed. They didn’t like this idea and so, did just the opposite. The pharaoh called them on the carpet, demanding to know why they had not obeyed him. They said, “The Hebrew women are much too strong and fast! They have the child before we can even get there!” Because of their courage, they were blessed with children of their own.

(Yes, eventually, the Hebrew slaves DID break free. Their exodus was led by a man who was once a baby boy not killed; saved by his mother’s bravery, his sister’s creativity, and yet another woman’s compassion — the pharaoh’s own daughter. But that’s another story for another time.)

Though there is so much to mine and treasure in this story, here are four takeaways for now — and for you; the oh-so-relevant wisdom these two women speak into your heart and life:

  1. Do what you can’t not do — even before you feel ready. You are.
  2. Neither the voices within, nor those of “power” without have the final say. You do.
  3. Trust that life is yours to bring forth on your own and others’ behalf, no matter the risk. It is.
  4. Stand alongside other women — always and in all things. It matters.

If there were a 5th takeaway, it would be this: The midwives (and countless others) stand alongside you. You’re not alone. You’re not alone. You’re not alone. No matter what.

That’s it! 

Well, OK, just one thing more. Well, 5 things. 5 questions, really.

  1. What is it that you can’t not do?
  2. What does your voice have to say?
  3. What life is yours to bring forth — for yourself and/or others — no matter the risk?
  4. Who are the women alongside whom you can stand?
  5. What if you aren’t alone, ever? You’re not. I promise.

Every Monday morning I write and send a letter (via email). It’s my latest thoughts, my deepest heart — and always on your behalf. I’d love for you to have it. SUBSCRIBE.

About Time

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately; struggling with it in some ways. And oddly, it’s not because I don’t have enough of it or feel like I’m on some endless treadmill; rather, just the opposite!

I find myself uncomfortable with, even avoiding, the spaciousness of time.

I’m a do-er. Super task-oriented. Motivated by efficiency. Profoundly satisfied by getting all my to-do’s checked off on a daily basis (and as quickly as possible). And I’m quite good at this! I get a lot done in a relatively short amount of time. So, to slow down, to stop working, to not take on one more thing just because I can, feels not only frivolous and irresponsible, but damn-near impossible.

When I ask myself why, I don’t have to search very far to find the answer.

Underneath my busy-ness, my schedule, my constant doing, is a deeply ingrained belief: my value and worth are determined by how efficient and productive I am.

I’m guessing it’s not just me.

A few questions:

  • How do you feel about yourself when, at the end of the day, you’ve not checked everything off your list?
  • What emotions show up when you look at the still-unanswered emails sitting in your inbox?
  • What is your mood when you get up in the morning to a kitchen that was not cleaned the night before?
  • What is your response to the latest post on Instagram that tells you it’s not only possible, but damn-near required that you accomplish more, earn more, be more — and all available to you if only you hustle harder (and buy the program that will teach you exactly how to do so)?
  • What would your mother say if you slacked off or took a sick day or gave yourself a break from your endless inventory of tasks and to-do’s? (I know: what your mother might say is not really relevant. But you do know her answer, don’t you?)