February 18th, my birthday eve. There was a time I would have been planning an evening out, choosing just the right outfit, and jokingly reminding my friends they had exactly one shopping day and they had better scramble to make something happen.
This is 58, though, and while turning 50 was anti-climactic, this is just two short years from 60. Sixty is just five years away from retirement age, though my personal retirement age is tracking to be somewhere in my early 90’s if I’m VERY thrifty. I’m pretty sure I would be a really unproductive retired person, anyway. In my hands, unstructured time doesn’t result in a climb of Machu Picchu or a new money-generating hobby, it generally results in me reading 50 more books each year whose titles I won’t remember in six months.
At 57 and 9/10ths, I think a great deal about perspective and how life, time, and experience tell us so much about who we are and what aspects of life are worthy of our focus. It shifts, you know, or at least it has for me, from the superficial and material to valuing dependability, curiosity, kindness, and vulnerability. You begin to choose the old athletic shoe over the 3-inch heel because how long your legs look doesn’t top your list of concerns anymore. You want to arrive, but you want to arrive safely and comfortably. You’ve realized life doesn’t have to be lived on the edge to be relevant.
I wasn’t a good woman for many years. In fact, most of the time I felt slightly uncomfortable in any group of women. In social situations, I gravitated to men. Maybe because I grew up with a brother. We had no drama. We laughed often. And if we fought, we punched each other a few times and were back to laughing in minutes. Men were simple to navigate. I only needed to be quick-witted and funny. Their feelings weren’t easily hurt and they said what they meant. Women were borderline terrifying. They had the potential to smile when they greeted you, then hurl knives at your back as you walked away. With women my guard was up, always. I was incredibly insecure. No matter the false bravado, I was painfully aware I was far from the prettiest, the most engaging, or the smartest, and I was desperately afraid they would realize it too. You know how the herd culls the weakest member? I figured I would save them the work and cull myself. Female friendships required risk and vulnerability. I wanted my life to be unencumbered and easy. Navigating complicated emotions and sharing weren’t skills I wanted to gain. That was one of many errors in my judgment over the years. I know now, the deepest bonds are forged in the hottest fires.
At 57 and 9/10ths, I’m overdue a love letter to the women in my life. Only women would have the tenacity and perseverance it took to show me how much more joyful life could be if I dared to own my shortcomings. I never began to live in truth and acceptance of who I am, good and bad, strong and weak, until I surrounded myself with the right women. Are there still knife-hurling mean girls out there? You’re damn right there are but the good women are worth the risk of a couple of run-ins with the bad ones.
I was pretty damn dumb in my 20’s and 30’s, leading to some astoundingly stupid errors in judgment. The women who surrounded me in those years and beyond, reminded me to laugh when the days got too dark, showed up for my kids when they needed extra love and support, helped me decorate because they understood that I was not born with the gift of visualization, gently guided me away from an outfit or ten that might have made me an incredibly attractive target for the knife-wielding mean girls, and sent me flowers and restored my self-esteem when my heart had been shattered into a thousand pieces. They praised my talents and gave me confidence when I didn’t believe in myself and taught me how freeing it is to laugh at myself when I fall on my ass. More than once, they physically prevented me from taking an action they knew a more sober me would regret.
They never expected anything in return, never used their good deeds as leverage, never said, “I told you so.” Though the good lord in heaven knows that, unless they’re certifiable saints, they thought it often.
So, if you’re a young woman, throw caution to the wind. Put it all out there. The good women will make themselves known quickly and they will bring you joy and enrich your life in ways only women can. Women are intuitive and graceful, funny and encouraging. They are innate caregivers and will lift you up time and time again, no matter how heavy the problem. I know, I’ve tested this. Divorces, struggling kids, money woes, the loss of loved ones, health issues, and hard choices don’t even faze them.
Embrace the opportunity to surround yourself with beautiful women, women more accomplished than you, women wiser or stronger. Smart women. The smartest you can find. They will make you better than you were before they came into your life. Your light will shine brighter and in the darkest, hardest battles they will fight alongside you. Hell, the very best of them will charge ahead of you into the fray. Mine have.
They will remind you of all the wonderful you’ve accomplished and what still lies within you. They’ll help you rise to the top. When you are lost in the forest of life, they will get you to the other side.
There is a scene in the Sex and the City movie where Carrie has been left waiting at the altar by Big, who has a case of cold feet. As she is leaving the venue in the limo with her girls, they meet Big in his limo, rushing to right his wrong. Both climb out of their respective cars and as Big approaches the jilted Carrie apologizing, her girlfriends surround her, Charlotte grabbing her while simultaneously jabbing a finger at Big, and screaming, “No. No.” There is something about the raw emotion of that scene that makes me cry. Every damn time. And I’m not a crier. Maybe because we’ve all been abandoned at some point, if not at the altar, emotionally, and so it’s a feeling we all identify with, but I doubt it. It’s that in that moment, those women represent the purest, most ferocious kind of love in the most heartbreaking and vulnerable situation. That two and a half minute scene is a very real, very beautiful representation of the intense love and devotion at the heart of female friendship.
So, ladies don’t sit in the corner alone with your slice. Despite what you’ve been led to believe, there really is enough cake for everyone.
And if you’re one of my girls, raise your hand. Your fire, strength, humor, and love are part of the reason I’m still standing at 57 and 9/10ths. I hope I’ve been a fraction of the friend to each of you that you have been to me.