Our life’s worth. Value. Purpose. Maybe that conjures images of grandeur, of heroism, of large impact. But I know the worth of a life can also be found in quiet ways, small moments, simple gestures.
This article is not for our warrior sisters fighting daily for human rights on local or global scales, or even for our sisters trying to survive each day fighting poverty and disease. For them, life’s purpose is clear. Activism. Survival.
This article is for those of us in simple ordinary lives in the elder years, no longer in the work force or caregivers, maybe living alone, far from family, perhaps physically limited, who ask ourselves, what value does my life have? What is my purpose?
The other day I opened the blog of one of my favorite younger warriors, Glennon Doyle. On that day alone, she raised one million dollars to support immigrant children separated from their parents.
I was so happy, so in awe, and so overwhelmed by the inadequacy of my own contributions to the welfare of humanity. What on earth am I doing of value walking in the woods and daydreaming today?
I thought about the meaningful role of older women through time, healers and crones, truthtellers and comforters. I realized the many small and large ways we share our gifts, and help to keep our world kinder, gentler, wiser than it would be without us.
Be the Carriers of the Old Ways
To all the young who encounter us, we personify a slower pace, a reminder of real things in this fast-paced world of virtual technology.
Sunday drives and landline phones. Classical music. Storytelling, playing cards, reading real books and newspapers, writing letters. Going to the library. Old remedies like calamine lotion and baking soda baths.
The slow rich simmer of spaghetti on the stove. Mending and repairing instead of replacing old things. Sewing, quilting, long talks at the kitchen table. Deep listening. Taking our time. Paying close attention. Communing with nature. Talking to babies in grocery stores. Traditions. We are the only ones who can serve the purpose of keeping the old ways alive.
Ease Others’ Pain
As elders, we have the time to notice and the experience to respond to those in pain. To light a candle in our little corner of the world. A smile, a touch, eye contact, a few words to someone struggling can make all the difference.
In a long life of love and decency, my father’s last days were perhaps his finest hours of all. Blind, barely able to speak from throat cancer, having just lost my mother, he was in the hospital and overheard talk about a nurse whose purse had been stolen.
He wrote me a note to take $50 from his wallet and give it to her. That was just one example of his compassion and generosity at the end of life, when others might be self-absorbed. My father is proof that no matter our limitations, all of us can participate in easing the pain of this world.
Truly, the opportunities are everywhere. From a mother with a screaming baby in the airplane, to a stressed store clerk, to friends going through hard times, every day there are moments you can lift someone’s pain, even just a tiny bit, maybe more than you will ever know.
Our long lives give us a larger perspective that can be tremendously comforting to others. We know that so many things don’t really matter in the big picture, or will turn out just fine, and that “this too shall pass.”
I will always remember coming out of a swimming pool when I was around 35 years old, tears streaming down my face because I felt like such a failure as a single mother.
Then a woman around 80 asked if I was ok and told me some stories about her life. Her slow voice, her long life, her calm presence shifted my perspective. She eased my pain more than she could ever know. I wish I could tell her now.
Spend Time Savoring
Do you wonder if you are doing something worthwhile when you spend the day in pure pleasure? Most of us have spent our lives following a strong work ethic, busy all day, only indulging in guilty pleasures like reading a book after the dinner dishes were done. But now we have the gift of time.
Yesterday I took myself to the beach and spent the entire day alone, with my toes in the water, reading, feeling the sun, hearing the water lapping. I knew I was doing something meaningful.
I once read – and deeply believe – that enjoyment, savoring, is a spiritual practice, even a spiritual imperative. Whether you believe in a deity or not, this world, of nature and music and good food, great books and gorgeous art, is a gift to the soul. Appreciation is mandatory.
Be the Truthtellers
We, the old and wise, aware of the fleeting days, are truthtellers. We have no time for dishonesty.
But truth telling can be scary. For women especially, being polite and saying what others want to hear has become second nature. But sometime after 60, we feel the need to speak and hear the truth, to break the taboo of silence.
Jean Shinoda Bolen, 82-year-old Jungian analyst, says, “It takes courage not to shrink back from uncomfortable conversations, but crones know that truth liberates. They know when something is wrong that needs to be faced.”
Sometimes blunt and direct, always carefully, we serve the purpose of speaking up even when others stay silent.
These are only four examples of how we elders can lead lives full of meaning and purpose. Each of us can self-reflect to explore our personal answer to the questions, “What did I come to this life to do? What matters deeply to me?”
We don’t have to be activists or philanthropists to help heal the world, to make it a better place. We can lead lives full of purpose and meaning from a wheelchair or from our backyard garden.
How are you infusing your life with meaning and purpose in your 60s? Please share the truths you have come to realize and want to shout to the world. Let’s have a chat!