A Fortune Cookie

I usually don’t take seriously the sentiments found inside Chinese Fortune Cookies. But last night as I bit into its crunchy center and pulled out the message the cookie actually yielded a worthwhile sentiment:

Engage in group activities that further transformation.

Good idea, I said to myself as the world crawled out from behind COVID during which we had lost all semblance of social life. Hell, I can’t remember when last I attended a book club meeting, church service or coffee klatch and what’s worse, my retreats came to a sudden end. What followed was doom, gloom, and too much Zoom.

So, several weeks later, as if by divine intervention I received an email from  one of my year by the sea retreaters asking if I had time to get together when she and three others would be on the Cape. I was eager for any or all connection, especially with like-minded seekers. Somehow, women who have “done the work” (by that I mean spent time asking the universal questions) were the ones with whom I wanted to hang around.

This would be a win, win as I had long since realized that ex-retreaters usually possessed a zeal that only persons in search of themselves seemed to possess. I had only met these women in a large group but that didn’t stop our personalizing the conversation right from the start.  Huddled in a dune at my favorite beach we began sharing our recent pasts…I started by sharing the loss my husband and how understanding the dimensions of grief was enormously debilitating; Donna had downsized and felt she didn’t belong in the condo she just bought; Pam was caretaking her mother with little help from her siblings; and Sally had just sold her business and felt isolated from 20 years of daily routine.

There was much nodding of heads with understanding although underlying the stories was the silent question: What about me?  I noticed that the conversation became peppered with words like purpose, feeling invisible, not fitting in with grown children, being sidelined. I settled back in my beach chair and sunk into the warmth that comes with reciprocity and raw truth smiling at the energy, the passion, the desire, the shared knowing. It brought to mind a line by therapist, Jean Shinoda Bolen:

In a circle where we face ourselves, we listen like a miracle.

Although our lives could easily become generic, seeking women sense that the real horror is not death but the featureless passing of life. The only standard we seem to live by is the one we designed for ourselves.  Propriety has little meaning in the way we behave anymore. In fact we women are more of the “when I am old I will wear purple women” variety, trying to do pretty much what we please.

There seems to be an unspoken credo that being of a certain age, we’ve had our moments and played them out on various stages. Now we’re left with the challenge of filling space which comes with little or no narrative.  The question we are asking ourselves is what character have we finally become or want to become.

If we keep asking we will not age out…only grow up.

Join me in pondering this very important question.

Who have I become after a lifetime of being all things to all people?

Leave a post here or email me at capewoman3@gmail.com

4 thoughts on “A Fortune Cookie

  1. What a delight to read your blog. I’ve thought of you often recently and wondered how you were.
    I often recall the delight of the 2 retreats I attended at Omega institute. As I emerge from the pandemic I find myself very busy but not finding fulfillment. Hmm time to take stock I think. I realize I am caught in a web of people pleasing again. First my husband, to juggle my activities with assuring that he’s not getting too edgy. Then the people directing my organizations seem very driven now, and draining the heart out of our missions.
    Thanks for reminding me it’s time to pause and reframe these inter-relationships.
    Be well Joan keep on being Unfinished and encouraging us to embrace our unfinishednesd
    Pat Schwimer NYC

  2. Having lost my sweet husband a few short months ago has left me pondering my next chapter. So many options, so little time…
    So happy to hear your thoughts, Joan. When is your next retreat?
    Blessings and Love,
    Marilyn Stein Underhill
    Columbia, SC
    PS. Peggy Johnston is your neighbor ( Tody Bole Lane) and my fab friend.

  3. So incredibly grateful to read your words again and oh your questions challenge my soul. I think the question I entertain now is not only who have I become but what do I want to do with all of the time and energy that I used to spend on others. I am beginning to feel the trickle of replenishment and hope filling up my body, my heart and my soul. Grateful for you, Joan.
    You unfinished friend, Kerry (ie. Lobster woman)

  4. Joan,
    I love this! I am still unfinished, as you taught me, stretching forward day by day. My mantra is “you will never be younger than you are today.” So, go for whatever. I love being retired from nursing and doing my own thing now. I have become comfortable in my own skin and look for ways to encourage other women to look forward. You are an inspiration foe me and it is so good to read your blog again. Thank you Joan, for being unfinished.

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