Last week I spoke of my pleasure in our children and grandchildren. I want to add that I sometimes watch the latter nine with a twinge of fear, because they have most of their lives ahead of them and who knows what will come their way?
Recently I was sent a photo of my grandmother Katherine (Quiring) Doerksen and her one-year-old daughter, taken in 1915, probably for her husband Johann, far away on the Russian front of the First World War, where he served with the Red Cross. I’m drawn to the face of my young grandmother, and what I see of both innocence and strength. I know what she didn’t know at the time of the photo, which is that the little girl will die at a year and two months, the husband and father still gone, the mother alone with her grief. I also know that she will get malaria, that the Russian Revolution is coming, that she will be poor, become an immigrant, bear another seven children, and lose a second child to death not long after arriving in Canada.
I’ve been reading Mary Pipher’s Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age. I’m liking it; it’s gentle with stories and encouragement. One word I’m especially noticing is resilience. We need resilience for new stages, new situations. We can learn resilience and we can draw on what we’ve learned already. Although I didn’t know my grandmother well, my dad spoke of his mother with admiration and affection. She was said to have a deep faith in God. This must have been the resilience that carried her through her circumstances. I hope for resilience too in the last stages of my life, and for my grandchildren beginning to learn it in theirs.
Last Saturday I found a quiet corner at the library and sat down with a pen and pad of paper to work on a personal mission statement.
I last did this 13 or 14 years ago while employed in editorial roles at our national denominational magazine. I taped the three phrases that I eventually distilled as a mission statement along the bottom of my computer. I often fell short of their ideals, of course, but they reminded me what I wanted to do and be in that place.
Although my core values haven’t really changed, my stage of life certainly has. I still write, but part-time, self-directed, and at home. My husband is retired and has health challenges. I have nine grandchildren. I’m 69.
Writing a mission statement is a process. There are helpful tools online — questions to ask about who I admire or might emulate, past successes, priorities and goals, contributions I can make. I recall that when I first did this exercise (probably after reading Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits), even before the one at my job, I was juggling writing projects with attention to the kids and household. Then I looked at women considerably older than me as models. Now I’m looking at women about my age or slightly older for examples of both positive aging and contribution. (For one, this shout-out to someone I know mainly through her blog: Sue Steiner. At 70, she began a blog to mark the year, planning 70, though well beyond that now, and each a gem that ends with questions for reflection.)
My statement isn’t formulated yet, but I did my pages of notes and reflections. A number of words have floated out of them for further rumination.
The U.S. Supreme Court is in the news these days, what with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Kennedy, but I’ve been thinking about another justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I saw — and highly recommend — the inspiring documentary RBG. Now 85, Ginsburg has been an advocate of women’s rights. When she attended Harvard Law School, she was one of only nine women in a class of hundreds, and even those nine seats, the dean opined, should have gone to men. The movie highlights cases Ginsburg argued before the Supreme Court in the 1970s, before she was served there herself, in which she had to instruct the all-male Court of the time that discrimination against women did — yes — exist. “I saw myself as a kindergarten teacher in those days,” she says with droll wit.
She was fortunate to have a close, supportive marriage with the late Marty Ginsburg, who apparently wasn’t threatened by her brain. She works extremely hard, stays energized through exercise, loves the opera (“the sound of the human voice like an electric current going through me”). But what lingers for me is Ginsburg’s beautiful presence as an older. I saw no apology in her for aging.
...no apology in her for aging…
Also inspiring: two nurses, 65 and 71, active in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and a caravan of grandmothers heading to the Mexico border. Plus, Longreads has started a series on age and aging. The first essay, “Gone Gray” by Jessica Berger Gross agonizes over to dye or not to dye. Who cares? is my opinion on the matter, please do whatever works best for you. But if you care, Gross offers one of the most amusing and persuasive considerations yet: “Trump’s ridiculous orange dye job made me see the deceptive element in hair color.”