PsyD., O.P. Living my best life now, "mid-life". I hope the stories I share resonate with Readers, regardless of chronological age. My perspective is that, the more we travel down the road, the more beautiful and resilient we become. Life can be painful, but it is a process that burnishes our strength, and expands our capacity to love -- starting with ourselves. Being able to smile and laugh ( especially at my own foolishness!) is essential to my well-being. I try - when I can - to infuse my stories with hopeful, humorous anecdotes. Enjoy. I'm thinking of you...

Silent-film “siren”, Clara Bow

I feel extremely lucky to have been born female, and extremely proud of my Sisters. Women are strong, smart, resilient and have the unique ability as a sex to call upon ancient truths to guide us in a perilous, male-dominated world. I think of women as a collective of survivors, akin to the micro-animal the Germans who discovered it and named it “Little Water Bear”. This creature can survive both sub-zero temperatures, and heat near 400 degrees Fahrenheit. It does so by adapting its metabolism according to its environment. Women are, as history has shown (and as is currently being played-out in response to events in Alabama), similarly fierce, flexible and enduring.

In addition to the aforementioned qualities, my Sisters are all — each and every one of them — inherently beautiful and alluring. They know this; sometimes at a surface level, where beauty can literally open doors; but more often this self-awareness is subtle, modest and discreet. Women have been leveraging beauty and sexual allure since ancient times, in relationships and in society. Again, some do this overtly, while other women choose to influence in less obvious ways. But we all have beauty, and we all know its power.

As an emerging young woman in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, I benefitted big-time from the atmosphere women were so much a part of creating. Social-media was not yet the guiding light it has become, so women communicated through music, art, speaking and writing. A pivotal book of the times was, “Our Bodies, Ourselves”, which not only educated women about their physical bodies, but encouraged them to honor their sacred femininity in every way. Not every woman embraced such freedom, including the option of eschewing makeup and shaving hair in places our mothers always did. The self-proclaimed “sexploitation” of actress-turned-activist Jane Fonda illustrated just how conflicted women could feel. On other continents, French actresses Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, and Catherine Deneuve maintained a firm grip on the power of sexuality and the art of seduction through film. These women were seen by many Sisters as traitors to the Movement, but I never viewed them that way. They had a clear understanding of their goals, the tools they had at their disposal, and had no qualms about using those tools.

Beauty and sexuality have always been inter-twined, and part of the female toolkit. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that. I tease my bewildered male friends (although most have finally become wise to my antics), with a promise (always delayed for some reason or other) of a book about How Women Think and why they do what they do. Men, despite their power and authority in most of the world’s cultures, have no idea of the sleeping-giant of the Sisterhood — but they suspect, and they fear. Our only limitation as women, they way I see it, is not being fully aware of, and “ok” with, the process of getting all of our needs met; nor are we as supportive of one another as we could be. 

When you next look into the mirror, channel a little bit of the 1960’s vibe: remind yourself of your fundamental wisdom as a woman, and of your beauty. Then go ahead and enhance and deploy that beauty however you choose!

There’s a human behavior that completely confounds my ability to get my head — and heart — around it: When a victim or survivor of a heinous crime chooses to extend forgivenessto the one who inflicted emotional pain, injury, or even caused the death of a loved one. It’s not that I don’t understand the choice; I’m simply amazed by the grace and resilience of the human spirit.

Those who’ve been damaged by another human being — the kind of damage that takes years, and a lot of therapy to mend — have every right to shut-down, curl into a ball, and retreat from the world. But, as we see within stories in the media, some people take an alternate route to healing, even after horrific harm has been done to them: the path of Forgiveness.

I’ve been thinking about the emotional injuries I’ve sustained over the years. It’s hard to live into your 60’s and not experience rough moments and rough people. In most instances, ‘Forgiveness’ was not in my repertoire. Lately, however, I’ve paid more attention to the words of those who’ve suffered much more than I, at the hands of vile, or just ignorant people. As a result, I’ve come to a completely different understanding of the Power of Forgiving.

First, the Act of Forgiving does not condone, excuse, or honor in any way the injury or the person who committed it. It does, however, acknowledge and recognize the depth of hurt and suffering caused, but in a way that restores power back to the injured person. When someone hurts you deeply — say, a severe violation of trust — besides the emotional pain that comes with the sense of betrayal, something else is actually taken away from you. What is temporarily lost or, more accurately, ‘eroded’ is your confidence, sense of security, sense of personal safety, and a host of other things (depending upon whatever the injury was). When we Forgive the person or people who’ve caused us harm in some significant way, we take back our power and strength so that we can begin to heal, regain balance and perspective, and avoid becoming jaded or cynical.

The Act of Forgiveness doesn’t need to be a public declaration: it can be as silent and as peaceful as a prayer sent up into the skies, as in those beautiful Japanese and Thai lantern festivals in which problems and worries float away in a swirl of golden light.

Every woman in my circle has bemoaned the way aging eventually shows up in our faces. Thankfully, we seem to have swapped-out hideous words like “marionette” and “crows’ feet”, for “laugh lines”. We’ve learned to appreciate these changes as badges we’ve earned by living and loving, losing and grieving. Life is a package-deal: no one gets out alive (as the saying goes), and no one gets to avoid wrinkled skin.

I, for one, applaud any woman who chooses to enhance her appearance by any means she deems necessary, appropriate and absolutely worth the expense. Having said that, I was surprised to observe lately, that women in their 20’s and 30’s are now the targets of advertising for the product Botox. Listening to the messaging, the underlying claims are that “Your face can, and should be exactly how you want it to be!” “Whatever your eyes do when you laugh? Don’t put up with it! Whatever that space between your brows does when you’re worried? If it bothers you, get rid of it!” Of course, Botox Cosmetic is the benign name for the neurotoxic protein that removes lines by paralyzing facial muscles. The medical hazards are clear, but are playfully minimized by advertisers. And, there’s even more of what the media-messaging doesn’t reveal…

Not long ago I went to an aesthetician (who’s licensed to perform all kinds of facial and body miracles) to have a scar looked at for possible treatment. After checking-in, a young and attractive young woman in a lab coat appeared and introduced herself as my Beauty Consultant. While I waited for the actual professional, my Consultant handed me a pink brochure with a scrollwork menu of cosmetic procedures that were currently discounted (my visit being close to Valentine’s Day; I didn’t see the connection and still don’t).

Not wanting to seem rude, I focused on a few strange-sounding products (that turned out to be what are referred to as ‘injectables) and asked a question or two. My Consultant was not only knowledgeable, but had experienced most of them herself. I could not resist asking, “Howold are you?” Her facial skin, to my eyes, looked as perfect as a baby’s. With total seriousness she responded, “I’m 24, and you should have seen my lips before injectables!” Of course I immediately looked at her lips. They looked pretty average, but my Consultant assured me that she had no lips at all pre-treatment. Ok. I tried not to picture that.

Getting to the point of my story, I was compelled to ask this young woman more questions — not because I was interested in having my lips plumped, but because she continued to relate other cosmetic procedures she’d had done on her face to make it “more perfect”. I had to know the downside, from her perspective. She started with the obvious: the expense. She continued with the fact that whatever gets injected eventually gets absorbed by the body. Read: it lasts for a few months, then your ‘look’ goes away. What floored me was this young woman’s acknowledgment that injectables were a lifetime commitment. “You know,” she emphasized, with her eyes looking directly into mine, “like going to the gym” (I felt that). She didn’t plan on “getting hooked” she said, “But once I saw how my face could be,” she beamed, I just wasn’t happy going back to how I looked before.” My Consultant claimed that most of the business’s clients kept to their four-or six-month schedules and that this was just another beauty routine, like hair appointments. 

If I had ever considered having “work” done on my face before, those thoughts were gone forever.

Conjure up the most desirable image of your dream house you can think of. Mine is by the beach: just about anywhere fairly close to the ocean would do. I can see the beauty of it, feel the calm and smell the sea. But — a house is just a house, no matter the location — if life all goes to hell.

Growing up— the youngest of three — my family was “middle class” but I always felt poor. Both of my parents were community college professors who scrimped constantly: shopping bulk and “warehouse” before warehouse was in vogue, always generic items, and only necessary staples. (All of our veggies and fruits were from our own back yard — an oddity at that time.) We never went hungry, but there were no luxuries. New clothes came from places like K-mart; our cars were old: out of style and convenience. If ever there was talk of buying a new appliance, the lecture began, “What’s wrong with the old one?” Even if the oven door had to be held closed with a strip of metal my father had screwed on it — the ultimate Survivalist Handyman.

None of this mattered in my childish perspective until it did — coinciding with our change of home just as I entered the 6th grade. Suddenly I lived in what was known as “the rich people’s part of town” (even though our house was actually small and funky-looking, compared to the artful and luxurious homes around it). I attended school with children of heart specialists, surgeons, lawyers, and wealthy ranchers. I knew in an instant, by looking at clothing, perfect hair and even makeup (in the 6th grade??), that I was an outsider. But, I fell into a girl-group that actually stayed intact until high school, when we all went to different colleges, chasing success, learning life lessons.

I never attended the announced high school reunions until — I think it was my 40th. I was so curious as to how these women, the childhood friends I’d been so envious of, were living their lives. I soon found out that my envy was completely unwarranted. “Barbara”, who’d always wanted children, had been in a horrific car accident which prevented her ever getting pregnant. She and her husband had chosen to adopt, but the child turned out to have significant behavioral problems (the home-wrecking kind). “Jackie”, a close friend of Barbara’s, had married for money (dropping out of college) and had recently come-out to her husband and children. Jackie told me she’d known she was a lesbian since high school but lacked the courage to reveal who she really was. She continued to live under the same roof as her husband for six years, having affairs as women appeared in her life. She was living in agony but was in a holding pattern. Jackie was also ostracized by her son after she came-out and was mourning not being invited to his wedding. As Jackie told me her story, she also told me that Barbara had actually — on top of everything else going on with her adopted son— fallen in love with a married man who had just dumped her claiming overwhelming guilt over the affair.

I came away from this high school reunion pretty much stunned by how things had turned out for my friends: two women who’d grown up with all the advantages wealth could provide. All of the competition, mean-girl bravado about who had more perks (a horse at the nearby stables, the promise of a posh summer camp every year, a second home at Pebble Beach ) was so irrelevant and stupid. On the long drive home from the country-club venue of the event, I repeated Gratitude mantras until my eyes became teary. I let myself enter into a full blown sob (brief, but cleansing) as I pulled into my own driveway. What a relief to be reminded that comparing ourselves to the progress and outcomes of others makes no sense at all. There’s always a story we can’t see, until it’s time to see it.