I have an odd admission to make: I am a fan of author Mary Pipher and I have yet to read any of her 10 books.
I became hooked earlier this year when I read a Q&A that coincided with the release of her latest work, “Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age.”
Pipher is a clinical psychologist and even though this book, and much of her other work, focuses on the female experience, I see starbursts when she makes simple statements on human thought and behavior.
At 70-plus years old, she is now concentrating more on the aging experience, and that in particular is what caught my eye. For we are all aging, no matter what our station.
To the question, “What do you find most difficult about this stage of life?” she hits several bull’s-eyes. “That I’m always going to funerals and people I love are sick and dying,” is her quick reply. Perhaps it was my three aunts and uncles dying within a four-week span right around Christmas, but she had me at “funerals.”
She quickly continued, “I’m aware that the runway is short. I try to work very hard to be in the moment and be present and grateful, but it’s easier said than done.”
For whom can it not be said the “runway” is getting shorter every day? It’s objective and inspirational.
“To stay on course at this age, you have to work hard,” she continued with one interviewer. Then, the author who first found fame with 1994’s “Reviving Ophelia,” transitioned to the female predicament in particular.
“As we enter this life stage, various aspects of our identity disappear. We’re no longer a working woman,” she observes. “If we don’t add new chunks of identity, if we don’t grow better, we end up bitter.”
On behalf of the fellas out here, I’d like to point out that virtually the same can be said for us, particularly that last sentence. New “chunks of identity” must always be pursued. Personally and professionally.
And “get better or get bitter” might be the Forrest Gump T-shirt that didn’t quite make the blockbuster film but should have. (This isn’t to say that women’s lot isn’t distinctly different or often more difficult than man’s in 21st century America. Far from it. But I seek commonality not division.)
That must be why, as I’m told, Pipher has a significant number of male fans. From what I’ve seen from a little surfing, she’s pretty darn good with the human condition, period — and most recently, on aging.
I think it bears further investigation, including and a trip to the library. There seem to be too many pearls of wisdom out there to pass up.
Take, for example, this excerpt from another interview I found online. Barring the lack of attribution to Abraham Lincoln for the first line or the shades of Viktor Frankl elsewhere, it’s all solid gold:
“People are pretty much as happy as they make up their minds to be. Circumstances alone do not determine happiness. Nor does genetics. We all suffer — some much more than others. However, those who suffer the most are not always the most miserable. Some extremely fortunate people despair while others, with quite tragic lives, find joy. All of us can acquire the skills necessary for happiness — gratitude, a sense of humor, perspective, acceptance, altruism, and the ability to inhabit the present moment.”
For all I know I’m the last one getting on the Mary Pipher boat, or perhaps it’s a boat with plenty of holes in it. I’ll let you know.
Follow Editor James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.