It’s not often I eavesdrop on private conversations but in both instances, I couldn’t resist. We numbered in the hundreds, even thousands – gathered all for the sake of igniting our passion.
September and October are important months for women throughout the San Joaquin Valley, with more than 4,700 of us revising calendars, rearranging schedules, finding sitters and taking time off work in order to gift ourselves time to attend the Central California Women’s Conference and the annual Top Ten Professional Women of the Year Awards Luncheon. Both are stellar events designed with singular purpose: to celebrate women.
I arrived at both knowing well that these high-octane days would bring renewal of friendships, moments of reflection, inspiration and a kind of sisterhood that nourishes and rejuvenates. With holidays around the corner, it’s a perfect time to sign on the dotted lines of our personal journals and “to do” lists with a vow to take better care of ourselves and live our best lives. As a dear friend reminds me in the parking lot, “Let’s celebrate when and while we can – and every chance we get.”
Both events delivered medicinal powers of their own – offering time and permission to dig deep, lean in, face fears, worries, dreams and priorities. More than one speaker reminds us there is mystery in every step of the journey no matter who you are, and that we all need grace and each other to grow and evolve. Heads nod as if the scene has been rehearsed. Out of the corners of my eyes, I see hands reaching to touch shoulders, some grabbing other hands. Somehow knowing we navigate life’s rugged terrain together brings sighs of relief and comfort to both sold-out audiences.
And so I mostly listen – to the whispers, sidebar conversations and a few outright soliloquies. Women fessing up that it’s not business as usual anymore. Life is hard.
The game plans are failing. It’s harder than any of us imagined. We’ve somehow lost the template for how to live, raise our kids, manage the aches and pains of later life, get along with each other, our partners, our employers, our in-laws – and then carve out time to be (with) ourselves.
Off in the corner, I overhear a small group of women admitting they are drowning. Another says she is suffocating – tired of traveling everyone else’s journey. She’s ready to take the plunge and follow her own dreams. The conversation ignites. One wants to write a screenplay; another has sketched out a business plan and says she’s ready to be her own boss. A young mom shares she is simply tired, exhausted and needs a nap.
I especially love listening to the women my age: all of us baby boomers – many contemplating big changes. Retirement. Relocation. Reinvention. According to statistics, we are 76 million strong. Dumbfounded at first at the realization we’ve come of age, many of us are yearning for a new rhythm and change in scenery. Act II on the stage of life. I meet up with a former colleague who can’t wait to tell me she is scared to death but just turned in her retirement paperwork last Friday.
Another woman in the ladies room is explaining to a friend she feels dulled by the decades and is using the day as ammunition for her comeback. “I’m stepping out of my comfort zone,” she announces with verve. Age has been a thief. The other woman, a full head of gray hair cascading from her shoulders, gypsy earrings dangling from her lobes, leans in, smiles like a Cheshire cat and insists that age “gives as much as it takes.” I can’t help but chime in, agreeing wholeheartedly. “The best is yet to come.”
Let’s face it. We’re striving to be women well lived. Able to proudly claim every inch of our mind, body and spirit. Our faces, fashion, work and words are a record of our lives. Maybe the leap from vinyl to digital has been challenging, but hey, we’re still here. None of us wants to be lost, forgotten or dismissed. My own mother reminds me of this every time we have a heart to heart.
As we age, we lose that margin for error because when you’re young, time is forgiving. There is always tomorrow. Next year. Another decade. Not the case anymore. By both days’ end, we have agreed to be a cohort of explorers – all searching for that mysterious something, happily conceding to be unfinished symphonies and works in progress.
Whether we meet in pairs or large herds, in bathrooms or boardrooms, it is our voices, opinions and stories that matter most. We’ll deal with the saggy skin, blurred vision and bad knees another day. For now, we celebrate – holding firm to the promises we’ve made – to live our lives with renewed urgency, without apology and with full-blown passion and determination.
Armen D. Bacon is a writer and coauthor of “Griefland: An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship” and a collection of essays called “My Name is Armen.” Write to her at email@example.com, @ArmenBacon.