The Joy of Being a Woman in Her Seventies, by Mary Pipher


Happy New Year to my dear reader friends. Thank you for following Matrignosis. May the new year bring you increasing health, prosperity, joy, and wisdom. Today a friend sent me this wonderful article by Mary Pipher. I share her sentiments and could not have said it better.  Enjoy.

We carry accumulation of years in our bodies, and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are innocent and shy as magnolias. –Maya Angelou

The Joy of Being a Woman in Her Seventies

–by Mary Pipher, Feb 27, 2019

This article originally appeared in the New York Times Sunday Review, on January 12th, 2019.

When I told my friends I was writing a book on older women like us, they immediately protested, “I am not old.” What they meant was that they didn’t act or feel like the cultural stereotypes of women their age. Old meant bossy, useless, unhappy and in the way. Our country’s ideas about old women are so toxic that almost no one, no matter her age, will admit she is old.

In America, ageism is a bigger problem for women than aging. Our bodies and our sexuality are devalued, we are denigrated by mother-in-law jokes, and we’re rendered invisible in the media. Yet, most of the women I know describe themselves as being in a vibrant and happy life stage. We are resilient and know how to thrive in the margins. Our happiness comes from self-knowledge, emotional intelligence and empathy for others.

Most of us don’t miss the male gaze. It came with catcalls, harassment and unwanted attention. Instead, we feel free from the tyranny of worrying about our looks. For the first time since we were 10, we can feel relaxed about our appearance. We can wear yoga tights instead of nylons and bluejeans instead of business suits.

Yet, in this developmental stage, we are confronted by great challenges. We are unlikely to escape great sorrow for long. We all suffer, but not all of us grow. Those of us who grow do so by developing our moral imaginations and expanding our carrying capacities for pain and bliss. In fact, this pendulum between joy and despair is what makes old age catalytic for spiritual and emotional growth.

By our 70s, we’ve had decades to develop resilience. Many of us have learned that happiness is a skill and a choice. We don’t need to look at our horoscopes to know how our day will go. We know how to create a good day.

We have learned to look every day for humor, love and beauty. We’ve acquired an aptitude for appreciating life. Gratitude is not a virtue but a survival skill, and our capacity for it grows with our suffering. That is why it is the least privileged, not the most, who excel in appreciating the smallest of offerings.

Many women flourish as we learn how to make everything workable. Yes, everything. As we walk out of a friend’s funeral, we can smell wood smoke in the air and taste snowflakes on our tongues.

Our happiness is built by attitude and intention. Attitude is not everything, but it’s almost everything. I visited the jazz great Jane Jarvis when she was old, crippled and living in a tiny apartment with a window facing a brick wall. I asked if she was happy and she replied, “I have everything I need to be happy right between my ears.”

We may not have control, but we have choices. With intention and focused attention, we can always find a forward path. We discover what we are looking for. If we look for evidence of love in the universe, we will find it. If we seek beauty, it will spill into our lives any moment we wish. If we search for events to appreciate, we discover them to be abundant.

There is an amazing calculus in old age. As much is taken away, we find more to love and appreciate. We experience bliss on a regular basis. As one friend said: “When I was young I needed sexual ecstasy or a hike to the top of a mountain to experience bliss. Now I can feel it when I look at a caterpillar on my garden path.”

Older women have learned the importance of reasonable expectations. We know that all our desires will not be fulfilled, that the world isn’t organized around pleasing us and that others, especially our children, are not waiting for our opinions and judgments. We know that the joys and sorrows of life are as mixed together as salt and water in the sea. We don’t expect perfection or even relief from suffering. A good book, a piece of homemade pie or a call from a friend can make us happy. As my aunt Grace, who lived in the Ozarks, put it, “I get what I want, but I know what to want.”

We can be kinder to ourselves as well as more honest and authentic. Our people-pleasing selves soften their voices and our true selves speak more loudly and more often. We don’t need to pretend to ourselves and others that we don’t have needs. We can say no to anything we don’t want to do. We can listen to our hearts and act in our own best interest. We are less angst-filled and more content, less driven and more able to live in the moment with all its lovely possibilities.

Many of us have a shelterbelt of good friends and long-term partners. There is a sweetness to 50-year-old friendships and marriages that can’t be described in language. We know each other’s vulnerabilities, flaws and gifts; we’ve had our battles royal and yet are grateful to be together. A word or a look can signal so much meaning. Lucky women are connected to a rich web of women friends. Those friends can be our emotional health insurance policies.

The only constant in our lives is change. But if we are growing in wisdom and empathy, we can take the long view. We’ve lived through seven decades of our country’s history, from Truman to Trump. I knew my great-grandmother, and if I live long enough, will meet my great-grandchildren. I will have known seven generations of family. I see where I belong in a long line of Scotch-Irish ancestors. I am alive today only because thousands of generations of resilient homo sapiens managed to procreate and raise their children. I come from, we all come from, resilient stock, or we wouldn’t be here.

By the time we are 70, we have all had more tragedy and more bliss in our lives than we could have foreseen. If we are wise, we realize that we are but one drop in the great river we call life and that it has been a miracle and a privilege to be alive.

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Her new book, The Soul’s Twins, will be launched next year.

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14 Responses

  1. This is a great post! I just turned 70 this summer and I have had a few glitches health wise, but ultimately age is a mind-set. I’m only as old as I think I am! 😉 However, what the mirror says, may be different, but who cares!! 😉 Happy New Year!!

  2. Delighted about the title! I’m 75 and feel so special just by the title! 
    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

    1. Me too! Women our age are so much younger in mind and spirit — and often body, for that matter — than most women were in our mothers’ generation. Happy New Year to you! Jeanie

  3. Happy New Year and New Decade to you Jeanie! Oh, I absolutely loved this article and have shared it on Twitter (I’ve just re-joined the land of the little blue bird!). What a beautiful, joyful read that helps us all embrace the aging process!
    As a woman in her late 50’s, having left her maiden and mothering years long behind, I turn with joy and excitement to the croning years ahead with delight and to my true coming of age! Warm & wild blessings, Deborah aka @liberatedsheep

    1. Happy New Year Deborah.
      I’m so glad you liked the article. I haven’t done much with Twitter lately, but I did post this article there too. I want every woman out there to understand the rich potential of being in our 70’s. As with every age, it’s not without its challenges, but my life in general is just filled with so much more joy, love, appreciation, balance, fulfillment, satisfaction, gratitude, authenticity, and all-around confidence, comfort, and well-being. It’s almost magical how much better things can get when you take your life seriously and try to live mindfully and creatively……as you of all people know!!
      My very best wishes for your true coming-of-age in the next few decades!! I know it will be a beautiful thing to see, and I look forward to hearing more about it in your poetry yet-to-come. 🙂 Jeanie

    1. You’re welcome, Roberta. It’s lovely to hear from you. I’m glad you liked this article and wish you a satisfying, graceful, and joyful experience of coming more fully into yourself in the coming years. Happy New Year blessings, Jeanie

  4. Thank you Jeanie for posting this lovely and inspiring article. There is much to look back on, much to look forward to, too. Moments of joy, or contentment, or appreciation, and wonder and curiosity do indeed make life worthwhile living.

  5. ” I am not old ” is my opinion is a scientific spiritual statement , as body is in time so rings of age are there but inside us is a witness to this change which is always timeless and when someone say I am not Old , one is refering to this Timeless I which is our True Identity .

    A man is naturally inclined towards masculine left brain of time Body and a woman is naturally inclined towards feminine right brain of Timeless Soul ,

    Modern Times has seen a shift in large percentage of women having shifting towards left brain of time so Time stress is there in them .

    Time has Joy and sorrow but Timeless is happiness , totality and totality comes from our creative Arts , Dance , cooking , and sports .

    O means Organise ….. L means life ……. D means differently

    so become valuable in our own eyes doing what we love to do in Totality.

    One time during a flight our aircraft had a fall of 200 meters in an airpocket , I was knowledgable yet little bit of afraid but a child who enjoyed this fall , laughed . at that point I ask myself …… who has more wisdom …… me or Child .

    Certainly my answer is Child ……. Child having not seen much of life laughs and I have seen this world yet afraid .

    Today I am 69 , just short of 70 ,,,,,, always take a gratitude bath and thank God for this wonderful life of Creative enlightenment and kiss my own Hand to express my thanks to body .

    I always feel starting with my early morning prayer for Sun rise and think ……. I am old outside but Brand New Inside ……. just like a Child …… looking at Sun first time , listening to birds first time ….. sipping Tea first time …….. wandering with wonder is Wisdom of my life …… what about all of you ,

    1. Thank you for these wise thoughts, Ram.
      What daily practices do I have?
      Well, like you, I try to stay mindful of–and grateful for–the beauty and gift of my life. In moments of great insight, awareness, or beauty, I often find myself with tears rolling down my cheek whispering, “Thank you. Thank you.”
      One daily practice these days is to say a mantra of gratitude to different parts of my body that seem to need extra attention, appreciation and love.
      Like you, I find that practicing timelessness…by simply noticing the space and moment I’m in here and now…automatically brings happiness.
      Thank you for your timeless reminders. 🙂

  6. Thank you for sharing this. I’d read it before and it deserves to be read twice of many times. It’s easy to forget.

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