by KATHY MEGYERI
Fans of author Mary Pipher will remember her from the 1994 bestseller Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. Now, in her newest book, Women Rowing North, the 71-year-old is helping older women navigate the choppy waters of their latter years.
The author uses the metaphor of rowing because she says we need to make an effort, choose a positive attitude, and maintain a sense of direction. Doing so can make growing older a time of enormous happiness and possibilities, she says.
Pipher, a cultural anthropologist and clinical psychologist who specializes in women’s mental health, says her latest book is “not a how-to book, but a how-to-think book.”
“If we can keep our wits about us, think clearly, and manage our emotions skillfully,” Pipher writes, “we will experience a joyous time of our lives. If we have planned carefully and packed properly, if we have good maps and guides, the journey can be transcendent.”
And so she presents her book, a guide packed with real stories of women who have struggled with the prospect of growing older and won.
Her book is divided into parts:
Part I considers the challenges of aging, caregiving, loss and loneliness.
Part II helps us to understand ourselves, make skillful choices, build our communities, feel gratitude, stay useful, and manage our own stories.
Part III helps us build a lifeboat of long-term loving relationships because we must
live interdependently with others.
Part IV explores the rewards of this late-life stage with an enhanced perspective and authenticity.
Her assessment of life in our 60s, 70s and beyond is both accurate and uplifting.
She cites the 2014 Brookings Institute study that shows that most women peak in happiness from ages 65-79 years. We are generally healthier and more active than men, have close relationships with family and friends, and cherish
intimate conversations and the sharing of emotions, according to the study.
Pipher shows that our past despairs are springboards for growth, making us authentic, empathetic and wise persons. Old age will likely be accompanied by loss of friends, loved ones and eventually, our own health. And though pain, sorrow, and anger will always be with us, we can choose gladness by taking care of ourselves, and managing the way we think and behave.
She reminds us that our journey is like an adventure in nature filled with many empty, wild places.
“Remember the first rule of the wilderness: don’t panic,” she advises.