“Peace is liberty in tranquility.”—Marcus Tullius Cicero
A marvelous montage of four very recognizable ladies graced an article in the NY Times on February 1, 2019. The title is, ‘70 and Female Is the New Cool’, and the pictures were of Nancy Pelosi, Glenn Close, Maxine Waters and Susan Zirinsky, all superstars from media, entertainment and politics holding positions of power in their later years. The point is made in the article that the ‘old and useless’ label society hung around a mature woman’s neck no longer applies, and many women in their 60s and 70s are still working by choice in demanding positions.
All true, and the new dawning seems to mirror a swelling tide of women in our general society who refuse to accept being ignored, or worse yet, completely invisible and therefore non-existent. But as cheerful as that message is for a woman who fits the demographic, there was something far more radical expressed in another Times article and its linked references, The Joy of Being a Woman in Her 70s, by Dr. Mary Pipher, on Jan 12, 2019. It garnered a hugely positive reaction, so you may have already noted the revolutionary idea in these articles and the book, Women Rowing North, written by Dr. Pipher. Her shocking revelation is that there is joy in being over 70, no matter what you’re doing, and that “older women are the happiest demographic in the country.” She backs this claim up with plenty of reassuring data.
This is truly not an idea most of us have had before, because it’s not about one or two isolated and inspiring instances of women we may or may not know personally, but about most of the women who comprise the human race on earth today. She offers any number of plausible reasons why this is so, but I’m not as interested in the proof as I am in the perception. I’m more aware of a growing realization that my own movement forward includes a seemingly inexplicable desire to smile just for the sake of it, because I feel good for no reason. That sense of well-being also includes a deeper peace, even in our inescapably chaotic political climate with its attendant environmental and social upheaval. That seems odd, doesn’t it? Surely if we’re intelligent enough to run governments and major corporations in our last quarter-century of life, as well as win awards for the ‘best in show’ no matter what that show might be, we must be aware that the planet and its inhabitants are in a lot of trouble, mostly of human origin.
Well, yes of course we are, but having experienced so many years of discord and happiness on earth seems to have given us an appreciation for the marvel and joy of living. Dr. Pipher tells us in her book that, “Many of us have learned that happiness is a skill and a choice.” I’m partially appreciative of and fascinated by the statistics backing all of this up, but I’m totally in the thrall of that tone of joy, peace, and acceptance coupled with resilience, that I hear when I read my former classmates’ descriptions of where they are in their lives now. For the first time I’ve felt an unusual calm and happiness glowing from their emails, which is not an easy thing to accomplish at any age. One of them wrote to describe her struggle with her husband’s death and her subsequent personal recovery. She ended with a short paragraph describing her abrupt change of direction after a year of dealing with adjusting to a very new life alone. I heard again the tone of joy, peace, and a powerful shot of optimism that I’ve never heard before from any of these women. She ended her email by reminding us of a British expression which is one of my favorites. It recalls the idiom of ‘just falling off the perch’, used when someone dies. She suggested that we need to keep flying as long as we can, never knowing where the floor of the cage might be. However, that’s where I think her analogy misses the mark. Those who carry that innate happiness and resilience within them are surely no longer in a cage of any kind.
It’s a concept I need to share with the protagonist of my latest novel Certain Liberties, about to be released this coming May. She worries incessantly about gaining her freedom without understanding that it will only happen when she finds some inner acceptance and appreciation for the life she’s been given, no matter what the challenges may be. I wonder if this is a message that might bring men to the same kind of skilled acquisition of happiness. Maybe the current demographics prove the case for some genetic or neurological advantage women have for emotional resiliency, and therefore peace in their later years, but I think not. I can tell that if we lose our footing occasionally on the perch, as we all have in our lives, being airborne now instead of caged is a wonderful way to live. If Cicero knew that ‘peace is liberty in tranquility’, then I’d say older men have a good chance for it, too.