I love the idea of mentorship, being and having. The problem is that as I’ve grown older finding a mentor is tough, so I’ve begun reading biographies – lots of them.There’s something wonderful about listening to the words of women who have been where I’ve been or want to go. Recently there are four lives, four women whose stories I just can’t shake. Each woman has had a wildly different life and background, but each woman’s tale is about defining beauty and purpose during our later years.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea is a classic in gracious hope, so I eagerly swept up Against the Wind, her letters and journals about transitioning into later years. During the first half of the book, I bored everyone near me reading out loud the passages that could have been written by me. She was questioning her new life, now that the kids were gone and her husband was off doing what ever America’s Aviator did. Her struggle was in finding a purpose after having been her family’s glue.
Then there was a dark turn. Her entries started with resolve and ended with wondering how her husband would react and whether he’d approve of her thoughts and dreams. What began as an uplifting quest ended as a decision to do the same ole’, same ole’. She began by looking for her own purpose and a shared life with her husband, and ended with adultery (on both sides) – a victim
of a self-imposed prison sentence of resentment and jealousy. Her later journals show that she was never able to find the beauty and peace that she found expressed in the Gift from the Sea
. Lindbergh is like my daffodils right now, growing up during the warm spurt in January. She knew she needed to grow and change but chose to do it in a fashion that stunted her.
Another woman, Emma Gatewood (Grandma Gatewood), also had a miserable marriage. Her husband physically abused her for decades. Living during the same time as Lindbergh, she also lived her life for her children (11). Finally, neighbors helped her be able to leave after a particularly brutal beating. At 65, Emma, needed purpose and repair. She quietly, secretly bought a bus ticket to Georgia where she began to walk the Appalachian Trail, alone – with only a pair of keds and a rucksack packed with a blanket and some light provisions. She was the first woman to walk it alone and she did it two more times.
She didn’t rant against her husband or her life of hardship, with each step she grew stronger. She loved the peace and challenge of the trail and found both in equal kind. Her “walks” weren’t totally alone, human kindness always found her when she was in need.
She found her voice and sang during the trail hours. Like Lindbergh, she was a poet. Her worksmithing didn’t match her 8th grade education. She had been a voracious reader throughout her adult life, preferring the epics of Homer. Her poetry uplifted me the same way Lindbergh’s did in my 30’s. She wrote about nature, her children, the post office and her abuse. She sorted out her life.
Gatewood found her purpose in an old National Geographic, which first got her dreaming. Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s dream broke down with age. One let disappointment become an anchor and the other a springboard. One had everything money could buy and the other had enough money for multiple pairs of keds. One lost the eyes to see beauty and the other’s eyes saw it everywhere. One stopped moving, while the other kept onward.
Lindbergh’s mentorship taught me the danger of self-knowledge without action, while Grandma Gatewood taught me that there is no reason to stop ever. She “wanted to see what was beyond the hill, and beyond that”, so do I.
Diane Keaton and Corrie ten Boom continue mentoring me in growing old, but I’ll write about them next week. These four women … Anne, Emma, Diane, and Corrie are women we all should know.
Until next time,