This is their gold
I have learned many lessons about what has meaning and what to let go of as I've witnessed the resilience of these women whose physical limitations have no deterred their spirit or will to create rich, creative, and meaningful lives. There is no self pity in this group. Hearts are open, laughter is frequent, and love abounds. This is their gold.
Originally, I was going to organize the materials into a ready-made book or binder like a scrapbook and make a copy for
each woman. But when the hand written responses and thoughtful stories arrived along with photographs and drawings, that format didn’t feel right. So I decided to approach the idea like I would when I make a mixed-media painting. I copied the original items I was given, taped copies to paper, pinned paper to wall and moved pages around by balancing color, shape, and texture -- I painted with the pieces. Pretty soon, it felt like the project would work better as a book and on the wall was the basic layout of how it should look and feel. I also realized that my informal project had grown in size and importance and that others would benefit from the precious insights and wisdom these women had so generously and sincerely shared with me.
People keep asking me why I have spent so much time and energy on this project. My answer is that what started as a personal quest to learn what I could from these important women elders in my life, before they were gone, has grown into a greater call. In a culture that seems to be obsessed with youth and an anti-aging belief system, it felt important to hold space for the women who really had something to say to us. Their wisdom and insights are priceless and come to us from the other end of life—from the perspective of looking back and reflecting on what matters most after having lived a long time.
I’ve wondered if part of my motivation for wanting to gather these stories together and learn from these women was a result of having lost my mother when I was thirty-four before that, really, since she was ill for so many years. Back then I didn’t know the questions I wanted to ask. But I do now. Perhaps these are the mothers many of us never had. Maybe in years past, they would have been honored as elders and sit in sacred circles, holding the stories and energies of our families and ancestors.
Recently, I had a conversation with my ninety-year-old friend Evie, about why she felt the call to complete this project was so important to me. As usual, her comment was insightful. She considered the idea and creative process a “leavening,” the yeast that can raise the consciousness about the subject of women and aging. “Yeast has energy,” she told me. “I’m energized by it and the energy you are committing to this project is also being carried forward by others,” she added. I’m reminded of how enthusiastic people who worked on the book have been and remember the “How can I get involved?” questions asked by strangers when I discussed the project with them. “It is that yeasty energy that is building and growing and moving the project into a larger community,” Evie concluded.
Wherever this goes, what I do know after having spent over two years on the project is this: the idea is bigger than a book. Everyone I talk to knows a wise woman elder who inspires others. But perhaps her voice isn’t heard because she has “disappeared” into the background of our youth focused culture. My goal in this book has been to recognize these five women in my life for the gifts they have given to me and share this “gold” with a broader audience. I also want to encourage readers to honor the special elder women in their lives, ask the questions, and bring their wisdom to the rest of us. We hope to have a “Sifting through Gold” website established in the near future where readers may post their own stories.
For me, gathering this material has been like panning for gold, a process familiar to those of us who grew up in Montana mining country. After patiently digging, sorting, sifting, and gently swirling pond water around in the bottom of a wide pan, if we are lucky, we will see beneath the sand and silt the glint of gold. I feel very fortunate to have had these women elders in my life and cherish the opportunities we’ve had to talk, write, sit, laugh, and cry together as we sifted through their stories, art, photos, and comments to create the contents of this book.
I have learned many lessons about what has meaning and what to let go of as I’ve witnessed the resilience of these women whose physical limitations have not deterred their spirit or will to create rich, creative and meaningful lives. There is no self pity in this group. Hearts are open, laughter is frequent, and love abounds.
This is their gold.
May women elders everywhere be recognized and honored for their life stories and what they have to teach the rest of us. May we listen and learn.
Be well. Enjoy the sifting.
Mary LaCasse December 2015