Inside: Wise Women is a guest post in a series called “Your Life in Progress.” In this series we hear from other women like you and I – women who are learning to love and care for themselves well.
Your life is your story. Write well. Edit often.Susan Statham
Right after I graduated from college, I lived in a college town in Colorado with my boyfriend in a great little apartment downtown above a Mexican restaurant. Once a month, we would walk a few blocks down to our favorite bookstore and buy one book each. It was a fun tradition. On one of these trips, I saw a sign on the bulletin board for a Simple Living Group starting in a few weeks. Intrigued, I signed up for it. At the time, we were members of our local food co-op, enjoyed walking and the outdoors, were vegetarians, baked our own bread and mostly bought used clothing. The group seemed like the perfect way to meet like-minded friends in a town somewhat new to us.
The group turned out to be very enlightening and a great way to meet friends, but not in the way I expected. We read many of the great classics in the world of simple living: Voluntary Simplicity, Diet for a Small Planet, Living More with Less, among others and engaged in meaningful conversations around a table of delicious food and drink. I had expected that. What I had failed to anticipate, though, was that I would be the only person in the group under the age of 50. The others in my group were progressive, upper-middle-class women near retirement. They were all fairly dissatisfied with how materialistic their lives had become and were looking for something more meaningful. All of them felt that simple living was a good first step toward finding that missing piece.
The most important thing I took away from the group, though, was not the lessons of simple living (though I have certainly carried these with me), it was the importance of having what I call wise women in my life.
I have never been close to my mother and until I was part of this group, I didn’t realize what a hole this had left in my life. These women, perhaps because they were so thrilled to have a young woman in the group, took me in immediately and were interested in what was going on in my life. In one or two weeks, these women knew more about what was going on in my life than my own family had known in 22 years. I felt cared for and known, two things I didn’t even know I was missing. And those two things changed my life.
It has been over 15 years since I was in that group and my life has changed a lot. I am married with four children, my husband and I both attended and graduated from graduate school, we have lived in five cities in five states and we have purchased our first home. One thing that has stayed with me, though, through all these changes is the importance of these wise women.
Each time I move to a new place, along with finding the library, the co-op, a CSA, a bookstore, a church, places to hike and a coffee shop, I look diligently for a “wise woman” to befriend, someone who can be a friend and informal mentor. I have yet to fail in my efforts, but it has taken shape in different ways through the years.
When my husband and I were first married, we joined a small church near our home and most of the members were older. We loved the older folks at the church, but those of us on this side of fifty decided to form our own group. One of the women in the group was about 45 (I was about 28 at the time) and she had two sons. We would always chat after church and I considered her a friend. I would watch how she interacted with her husband and sons, taking mental notes. When I found out I was pregnant, she took me in and talked about breastfeeding, childbirth and gave me a huge box of cloth diapers her children had used. Looking back, I feel like I learned almost everything I know about being a mother from this wonderful friend.
In another town, I joined another women’s group. These women were all mothers of grown children and met together to discuss a book once a month, but really, they got together to support one another through the hard work of allowing their adult children to grow up. In a strange way, it gave me hope to look ahead to this stage in my life, even though many of my friends were struggling. I felt part of something larger by being with these women and was honored at their hospitality.
As my children have grown older, I have purposely chosen preschool programs for them where the teachers are more experienced (ideally any preschool program would have at least two teachers, one newer teacher and one more experienced mentor plus any others, depending on the class size) and I mean no disrespect to those just starting out in the profession, but the experienced teachers have been a huge blessing in my life. I have made friends with my children’s teachers (particularly when the year is over, given the need for professional boundaries). I email and talk to all of them regularly and am tremendously grateful to all of them. We share stories, books, articles and hand-written notes. They offer the kind of perspective on child-rearing that is very hard to get when you surround yourself with people in your life stage.
We purchased our first home this year. It is a fine home and is perfect for us. What we didn’t know when we bought it, though, was that we had won the neighbor lottery. Our neighbor is the epitome of a wise woman. A retired school nurse, a former Catholic Worker, a mother of three grown children, a sponsor of refugees- and that is only the beginning. Anne Lamott talks about God sometimes “showing off” and whether you believe in God or not, somebody was clearly showing off when they placed us here. She and I talk in the front yard or on her porch while the children are at school, we all play games together and she has the children over to do crafts or games while I have a break. She is a gift.
These women (and many more I was unable to mention here) will never replace my mother or take away the sense of loss I have because I am not close to her, but I am thankful for the gift of being part of that Simple Living Group back in 2001. It allowed me to realize that I was missing something crucial and to make sure that I took steps to create relationships in my life that would provide a semblance of that missing connection.
I encourage you today that if you are feeling the loss of some important piece of your life, whether it is a relationship, hobby, sense of wellness, or something else, to think a little outside conventional wisdom and see if you can improvise a way forward, no matter how small or imperfect it may seem.
Anything we can do to build wholeness in our broken lives is meaningful work and very worthwhile.
Bio: Shana is an Alaskan Ex-Pat, Lover of the Neglected, Quiet Agitator, Enthusiastic Pedestrian, and Part-Time Writer.