Angels Among Us ~~ Rachel

Yesterday I did a favor for Rachel. She recently moved, is still feeling overwhelmed with organizing her new space, and I’m pretty good at organizing. It is the least I could do for this angel … a small repayment for her kindness to me during difficult times in my life.

Rachel

Rachel first appears in my memoir on page 176 in the chapter titled, “Daunted.” It was 1989 and I had just left my marriage of almost twenty-three years. It was moving day and Rachel noticed my daughter and me working hard all day carrying stuff into my new home. We were exhausted, and I had neglected to make plans for dinner.

“As we carted in another load, Rachel came by to welcome us to the neighborhood. She invited us to dinner at her house. … A single parent with two teenage daughters, Rachel lived two doors down. Her invitation felt like a good omen. I hoped a friendlier neighborhood with girls near her age living close would make my daughter more comfortable moving in with me.”

Then she appears ten years later on page 259 in the chapter titled, “Fire Walk.”  Rachel is more extroverted and fun-loving than I am, but our friendship survived my move away from the neighborhood where we first met.

I was even more exhausted and rattled in 1999 than I had been on moving day in 1989. I was in the midst of a crisis with my daughter. She needed appropriate clothes to wear to a funeral and I didn’t have the time or energy to take her shopping.

“Rachel appeared with a bag full of clothes she and her daughters no longer wore. In the bag was a nice dress and shoes for my daughter to wear to the funeral.” 

When Rachel arrived at my home with these clothes, she saw the state I was in. I had so much to do and couldn’t even think straight to get started. Rachel helped keep me focused for the tasks at hand and helped me accomplish them.

Rachel sees a need and jumps in to help. She is known for helping many others. When reminded of her generosity, she is surprised because she has forgotten all about it. That’s just the kind of friend she is.

Yesterday morning as we worked on organizing her kitchen, our conversation deepened as we both reflected on what I wrote in A Long Awakening to Grace. She is not the first friend to note, after reading all that I went through with my children, that they didn’t feel they had been there for me … had not been a good friend.

That has nothing to do with their friendship. When something came out in the open, friends responded, including Rachel. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to write this “Angels Among Us” series. My friends couldn’t know the extent of what I was dealing with because I mostly kept it to myself. When I needed to talk about my family struggles, I saved that for my support group meetings.

When I was with my friends, I wanted to enter fully into our social activities. I wanted and needed a break from family matters. So many friends, including Rachel, are now learning the details. What is meaningful to me is that my story seems to touch some of their own tender places and they now feel free to share with me. Our eyes moistened as Rachel and I bared our souls in her kitchen. And then we did what good friends do, we gave each other a big hug.

Thank you, Rachel, for being an angel in my life … in days long past and currently as well.

Another Welcome Gift of Grace

In my last blog post, I wrote: “For many years as an adult, I hid. I cut myself off from old friends who would have wanted to know what was going on. I didn’t want to tell them.”

When our family moved from Middletown to Kettering, OH in the early 80s, we left behind a whole group of tight-knit church friends. I didn’t include in my memoir the story of the house church some of us founded, a most meaningful experience for us. But that is another story for another time.

This week, I reconnected with one significant friend from my past, LaVerne, my daughter’s first piano teacher. LaVerne, her husband Dick, and their three children Dale, Bruce, and Sandra were active members of The Church of the Continuing Creation, our house church.

After her husband died, LaVerne moved to Houston, TX, to be near her daughter. My memoir brought us back together.

LaVerne

LaVerne and I have been friends on Facebook for awhile, but we hadn’t talked in several years except for a visit I made to her shortly before she moved to Houston. I was still in the process of writing A Long Awakening to Grace. I trusted LaVerne to give me honest feedback about how she experienced me in my relationship with my then husband. She had many opportunities to observe us in the 70s. I wanted to be as candid as possible about my part in our relationship not working.

But because some of what I experienced with my children was still too painful to talk about, I didn’t share much with her about that part of the story. She learned about it through reading my memoir.

It was important to me that someone significant to me from my past know my truth. In fact, a Facebook message I received from another member of the house church when my memoir was first published brought me to tears. Karen was a teenager in the house church and her mother, Wapella, was one of my dearest friends. Unfortunately, Wapella died before my memoir was published. Karen said:

“Linda, I read your book this weekend and was very moved. I smiled at the memories of people from our past and shed a few tears during certain passages. Thank you for sharing your insight and pain.”

When I knew LaVerne, also one of my closest friends, wanted to read my book, I asked her to give me honest feedback after she finished reading.  And thankfully she called me Sunday evening instead of sending a text. We talked for two hours.

“Through memoir people get to know us, the inner details they never knew. Glad you rekindled your relationship!” Linda Joy Myers, founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers and one of my teachers.

Not only did LaVerne not know the inner details of my life, she knew little of the outer details. She seemed to hardly know how to respond. She just kept saying “Wow!” She also told me that she talked with her children about reading my book, telling them, “I lost touch with Linda a long time ago and her life just kept getting worse.” She wondered how I am “still standing.”

As Linda Joy, author of two memoirs, Don’t Call Me Mother and Song of the Plains, and several books on writing memoir, knows … it is the inner details that most interest friends.

Most of the conversation with LaVerne centered around the deep, inner details of our lives. She didn’t seem to recognize her musical talents as gifts that are every bit as spiritual as my contemplative writing and involvement in groups that delve deep into soul. But by the end of our conversation, she seemed pleased to appreciate that fact at a deeper level.

LaVerne is an extrovert with a great sense of humor. She finds people fascinating and loves to interact, often initiating contact through humor. People enjoy and trust her almost immediately. That is a gift I wish I had. While I find people as intriguing as she does, I have a much more difficult time initiating conversation.

And, now that, in LaVerne’s words,  “…we broke the barrier we’ll talk often to check up on each other.” Before we ended the call, we reaffirmed our friendship and love for each other. What a blessing. Another gift of grace that has come as a result of publishing A Long Awakening to Grace. I am once more filled with gratitude.

 

Angels Among Us ~~ Phyllis

“A tall stately woman in her late fifties, Phyllis’s presence made an impression. Soft white curls framed her face. Her dark, deep-set eyes regarded others intently as she listened to discover the values that guided their life choices. When she was delighted, a huge smile lit up her face. When troubled, her thick eyebrows furrowed and her generous lips tightened. I hoped she wouldn’t find any reason to furrow her brows or tighten her lips while observing our group.” ~excerpt from A Long Awakening to Grace

I wish I could reconnect with Phyllis and insert her picture here holding my memoir, but Phyllis died in October of 2004, thirteen years before the publication of A Long Awakening to Grace and five years before I became serious about writing my story in something more public than my journals.

Phyllis was an extraordinary woman. For over fifty years, she dedicated her life to ministry and being an active volunteer in the community. She served several churches as their director of Christian education. She and her soulmate and husband, Norbert,  pioneered mission work in Kentucky’s mountains and Middletown’s inner city.

St. Paul’s United Church of Christ Middletown, Ohio

In the early 70s, Phyllis began serving as the Director of Christian Education for the church in which I was an active member. She asked to observe a group I facilitated in my home. Fortunately for me, she didn’t furrow her brow. In fact, when I turned around after ushering the last group member out the door, a huge smile lit her face. Her words thrilled me.

“Wow, I’m surprised at the depth of sharing tonight. The group went very well. I’m impressed with the strength of your leadership. You have gifts as a small-group leader.” excerpt from A Long Awakening to Grace

Phyllis saw something in me that needed to be nurtured. A few weeks later, she suggested I pursue a career in the church. Alice, the parish worker from my home church, was the first person to make such a proposal. Alice made her’s as I prepared for my 1960 high school graduation.

For many reasons, I didn’t heed Alice’s advice. With Phyllis’s urging, I decided to at least explore the possibility. But it took a third prompting for me to get serious about it. That one came in response to a letter I sent to Ruby, the Director of Christian Education preceding Phyllis, seeking her advice. At first I thought Ruby’s counsel outlandish. Because I already had a bachelors in education and four-years teaching experience, she recommended I pursue a master of divinity degree in seminary.

I resisted. I just couldn’t fathom my being “holy” enough to associate with the “saints” I would surely find in seminary. But when others didn’t seem to think it was crazy, I decided to explore further.

I enrolled in Dayton, Ohio’s United Theological Seminary for their fall quarter, 1975. Phyllis gave me a butterfly pin with a card that read, “Now you can fly.”

After sharing with my classmates in the first course I took about the pin Phyllis gave me, they dubbed me, “Emerging Butterfly.”

“That’s a perfect name for you,” my classmates enthused. The butterfly became my favorite symbol for resurrection and transformation — and after graduation, the symbol for my retreat ministry titled Emergings.” excerpt from A Long Awakening to Grace

I still had a lot of growing and changing to do after I entered  and graduated from seminary. Phyllis didn’t get to witness it all. However, I will always be grateful for the role she played in smoothing out some of my rough edges and believing more in me than I was able to believe in myself.

Phyllis definitely served as a significant angel in my life and I regret not spending more time with her toward the end of her life to thank her for the important role she played in my life. Let that be a lesson to you. If there is someone who has been pivotal in your life, let them know before it is too late.

I did eventually learn to fly, as my awakening to grace testifies. I will always be grateful to Phyllis for her part in giving me wings. I like to think she would approve of my flight path.

Angels Among Us ~~ Karen

Probably one of my greatest fears growing up was being rejected and judged as inferior. That fear was front and center for me in 1999. I had been searching for twenty-two years for the reason behind my children’s puzzling behavior and had given up all hope of ever knowing its cause. As most parents do, I blamed myself. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was about to experience a miracle that would reveal the origin of their behavior.

Professionally, I offered Imago Relationship Therapy and relationship coaching as an outreach ministry of a local church. Because of my embarrassment about my children’s behavior and my fear of how members of the congregation would react if they knew, I didn’t talk about my children at church. I kept secrets.

“No one at church knew much about my personal life. They knew I had adult children but didn’t ask about them, and I offered nothing about their circumstances.” ~excerpt from A Long Awakening to Grace

To my horror, my secret became known in a very public way. I prepared myself for the judgment against me that I was sure would follow. I served on the Christian Nurture Committee, and the next time they met, I braced myself for their disapproval. I was so very wrong. They gave me nothing but compassion. From that I learned that I was projecting my judgment of myself onto them … and many others … something I probably still do far too often today.

I had lunch yesterday with Karen, one of those committee members who has remained a friend all these years later. She has most definitely been an angel in my life.

Karen

“We’ll pray for you. We’ll add your names to our prayer group.”

 

“‘And I have a friend with a prayer group at her church. I’ll get you on her list, too,’ Karen chuckled. ‘In fact, we’ll see to it that every prayer group in town puts you and your daughter on their list. We’ll cover all the bases.’ She gave me a reassuring hug.” ~excerpts from A Long Awakening to Grace

Karen is an extraordinary woman who is an angel in many lives. She makes a difference in her family and in our community, utilizing her many skills as a volunteer. A retired teacher, she currently tutors at the literacy center. She told me over lunch about helping a man learn to read the Bible so he could do that in church, helping a woman learn to read children’s books to her grandchildren, and a woman learn to read so she can upgrade her work skills. That’s just the kind of woman Karen is.

Karen exudes enthusiasm for life and one of her favorite activities is having dinner with friends. She became so engrossed in reading my memoir, in order to finish, she turned down a dinner invitation. As soon as she turned the last page, she called me. “I just had to talk with you.”

She told me about her rejected dinner invitation. “Now you know, I never turn down a dinner invitation,” she chuckled. She went on to share how moving she found my story and how she felt for me with all I went through with my children. We made a date for lunch.

Over lunch yesterday, I enjoyed catching up with what is going on in Karen’s life and hearing about people from that congregation who I rarely see anymore. They are still very special to me. Karen wanted to know about how my daughter is doing and about my life these days.

After lunch, she had to rush off to take a neighbor woman in her 90s to the doctor. Like I said, that’s just who Karen is. As we prepared to leave, we made a pledge not to wait so long to schedule another lunch. I am so blessed.

Angels Among Us ~~ Miss George

Miss George appears first in our lives in 1982 and in my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, on page 93. She accompanies us on our journey for a year and through page 95.

She was the best teacher my son ever had. And that is significant because in all the schools he attended, most of the teacher’s only expressed frustration or worse with him. School was traumatic for Doug and for our family.

These excerpts from my memoir will give you a sense of Miss George’s quality as a human being and a teacher.

“…when it came time for my first parent-teacher conference, I braced myself. I suffered pounding tension headaches every time I entered a school building, even if just to watch one of my children perform in a program.” 

When I called Kettering City Schools three years ago to find her, I was told that I was not the only parent who had called looking for her. Miss George was an outstanding teacher loved by many parents and students.

This next excerpt from my memoir will show why I love her.

“She said, ‘Doug’s making good progress in his studies. He’s pleasant and cooperative in the classroom.’

I burst into tears. 

Miss George leaned toward me, a puzzled look on her face. 

… ‘This is the first time I’ve heard anything good about my son from a teacher in years.'”

 

The kindness she extended to our family will always be appreciated.

“After our conference, Miss George sent home ‘Happy News Telegrams’ and lengthy notes about improvement in Doug’s behavior and work. She often wrote, ‘I’m very pleased with him, and you should be, too.'”

Unfortunately, because of a serious health condition, after twenty-three years of teaching, Miss George had to give up the job she loved. Teaching defined her life and was the purpose for which she lived. Now she struggles with living day to day. But that has not dampened her spirit and attitude.

Saturday, I had lunch with her to gift her with a copy of my book.

Miss George

When I told her she was in the book, her eyes brightened and she asked, “Can you show me where?” I opened the book to page 93 and she read those two pages where she appears.

She was so excited and kept thanking me. In truth, she is the one who deserved my gratitude. She was an angel and a bright spot in our life. And when we are going through a rough time, we need such angels.

Saturday I could see that I was a bright spot in her difficult life. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to repay her in some small way for the enormous gift of grace she extended to us so long ago.

Celebrations

It was a long day. My Michigan friends, Tom and Sarah, were visiting. Sarah and I grew up together in New Bremen, got married about the same time, and were pregnant at the same time in 1968. Their daughter, Connie, is two weeks younger than my son, Doug. While our children grew up, we visited each other twice a year, alternating between Ohio and Michigan. It had been two years since we had seen each other. The picture below shows Tom and Sarah with Connie, her husband and daughters.

Don, Carolyn, Sarah, Megan, Tom, and Connie

Nicole had an appointment with her OSU neurologist Tuesday afternoon, August 15, so I scheduled an appointment with a Columbus attorney in the morning. I no longer like driving the interstate and wanted to double up on these appointments. Sarah accompanied us to these appointments.

I had been referred to Matthew Gibson because he specializes in estate planning when there is a disabled child involved. Sarah sat in on the meeting and took copious notes for me. Nicole and I really liked him, but it was a stressful meeting. I had made an outrageous request of a friend to handle Nicole’s finances after I’m gone. We called her so she could ask the attorney questions. I hate having to ask friends to assume this responsibility and am grateful for their willingness.

Sarah, Nicole, and I had a lovely lunch after seeing the attorney and then headed for our OSU appointment. Unfortunately, we missed a turn and got lost and never made it. And so we switched gears from frustration at having to reschedule with OSU to excitement about what awaited us at home.

The proof for A Long Awakening for Grace was slated to arrive that day. My friend, Diana, wanted to be present when I opened it. We called Tom to make sure it had been delivered and then called Diana to alert her to our impending arrival home.

Jim & Diana

Diana and her husband, Jim, came with sparkling juice and wine glasses to toast the occasion. After the drum roll, I opened the package.

The big moment

My daughter cried. When I asked if she could share with me about her tears, she said, “I was just thinking about all we went through.” Then she joined in the celebration. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate her support.

Nicole

I’m so aware that in the midst of the chaos that surrounds us these days, we have much to celebrate. I am determined to notice and honor the emergence of joy and love wherever I find it. When we look, we find that it abounds. This day I celebrated with friends … the satisfaction of a job well done. Yesterday Nicole and I celebrated the wonder of the Universe, watching the eclipse from our front yard, chuckling at my space kitty’s interest as we watched the eclipse on Nova that evening.

Kiko

And as I write this, the second proof is due to arrive. Later, Nicole’s new visiting physician will arrive. We will celebrate again, in the midst of the ordinariness and extraordinariness of life.

Spicing Up My Life

For the past four or five years, while I’ve been focused on writing my memoir, I would have rather been writing than cooking. I’m not alone. Eighty-eight authors, including my friend and Story Circle Network sister, Judy Alter, contributed to a cookbook called We’d Rather Be Writing. I can relate. Judy loves to cook, garden, and entertain … has written a cookbook, contributed to another, and has a third noodling around in her brain. She inspires me to write about food today.

Since my daughter moved in with me a little over a year ago and I became her full-time caregiver, I’ve been doing a lot more cooking. And I’ve been stuck in a rut. But, because A Long Awakening to Grace is slated for publication the end of August, I’ve been looking to becoming more adventurous in my meal preparation and to entertaining friends again.

For the past year or so, once a month, my friends, Diana, Prema, and I, with coupons in hand, stop at Penzys Spices on our way to our Integral Study Group in Cincinnati. It is an exciting part of our day.

We love Penzys!! Their spices are the freshest and most aromatic. We usually sweep in, grab a basket, and make our rounds of the store gathering the spices on our list, sniffing as we go. Sometimes we just have to try that new aroma on display. What’s more, their service is superb. The clerks seem always delighted to see us and often put a little gift in our bag.

On our last visit, I was gifted with this bumper sticker. Now, you have to know … I’m not a bumper sticker kind of person. I don’t like being labeled because I’m always growing and changing and what fits me one day may not fit me the next. But because I’m working on changing my relationship with cooking and entertaining, adding more tasty recipe’s to my routine, contemplating sharing them with people I love, I am embracing this bumper sticker.

As I prepared to serve lunch to my seminary friends, Kathryn, Sharon, and Pam recently, I searched for new salad recipes on the two food blogs to which I subscribe … Once Upon a Chef and Cookie and Kate. I love my friends and wanted to cook tasty food for them using the rich flavors of Penzys spices.

I found a great Greek Lentil Salad on Cookie and Kate’s site.

While I think they enjoyed the salad, Kathryn had previously placed an order for some her favorites from among my tried and true. She loves my omelets and the oatmeal recipe I received from my friend Karen Nelson years ago.

So, when the two ethnic restaurants we tried on July 4 after Kathryn’s plane landed were closed, I said, “Let’s do omelets.” I put Penzys’ Tarragon in the egg batter and then fill the omelet with veggies and a little cheese. This time I used asparagus, cauliflower, mushrooms, onion, and summer squash. Yum!

For the oatmeal, I use steel cut oats, add it to boiling water and then simmer for ten minutes. At that point I add cinnamon, black strap molasses, goji berries, and crystalized ginger and simmer for ten more minutes. Then I pour the hot oatmeal over dried fruit, usually raisins and dried cherries. I make enough to last for several breakfasts. After warming it in the microwave, I top it off with ground flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and a dollop of coconut yogurt. Very filling.

My writer friend, Judy, is encouraging me to entertain again, so I am trying out some recipes on my daughter before inviting friends in. Because I find ethnic recipes more flavorful and interesting, I recently prepared a delicious Grilled Moroccan Chicken recipe from Once Upon a Chef. We loved it.

Thanks for the inspiration to entertain, Judy. Once this memoir is out in the world, I plan to begin extending invitations. The thought of friends gathering around my table again brings a smile to my face.

Remembering: Our Foundational Moments

On Wednesday, July 5, while my friends Kathryn and Sharon visited, another seminary friend, Pam, came for lunch. I wish I could convey in words the energy created in my home as we visited with each other. It was palpable and filled me with gratitude for these women and for the opportunities we have experienced in our lives.

Sharon (from Pittsburgh), Linda (from Dayton OH), Pam (from Austin), Kathryn (from Wichita)

I met Sharon and Kathryn in 1975 when we all began our sojourn with United Theological Seminary here in Dayton, Ohio. They graduated in 1978, a year before I did. Pam came to United later and had never met Sharon. Because Kathryn stayed in the area for a couple of years and I worked at the seminary for six years following my graduation, we had both met Pam.

So we began our visit by sharing how our lives had unfolded during the past thirty-nine years. And then we began to reminisce about our experiences at United — foundational moments for each of us.

Chapters 7 and 9 of my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace*, recount how I was encouraged to enroll in United and some of my experiences while I was there.

Sharon, Kathryn, Pam, and I were among the first wave of women attending seminary in large numbers and we brought our curious minds and passionate hearts to our studies and the relationships we formed. We found our professors excited about the depth and breadth of the thinking of women students as well as our enthusiasm for our studies. Because women being called to ministry was a boundary breaking experience, we came with fresh perspectives.

We were unaware at the time how refreshing our presence proved to be for the faculty. One professor in particular had a reputation for being tough. But we didn’t experience him that way. He just loved quality work and expressed gratitude for women students giving it to him. He rewarded our efforts generously.

“Whoever believes in the good in people, draws forth the good in people.”  ~Jean Paul

All of us experienced being mentored and encouraged by faculty members to pursue the paths we were drawn to follow after graduation. The four of us looked back with awe at our professor’s generosity. We are all grateful to have attended United during this pivotal time in her history … a time when the faculty created a curriculum and an environment that drew out the best in those of us hungering to experience and live in alignment with the heart of Christianity.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  ~Luke 10:27

 

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  ~John 15:12

*A Long Awakening to Grace is slated for publication the end of August 2017.

The Blessings of Friendship

Many years ago, I received a compliment from Anne Wilson Schaef, author of many books and someone with whom I trained in Living in Process, a spiritual way of life. After observing me during a weekend workshop, she called me over and said, “You do friend well.” I have never forgotten that and I try as best I can to live up to that. Of course, I sometimes fail, but I do my best to make amends and change my behavior. Because I have so little family, my friends are very important to me.

Last Friday I was treated to a delightful day with a significant friend I met while I worked at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH. Pam coordinated the Harriet L. Miller Women’s Center while she was a student. After she graduated, she went on to Union Theological Seminary in NYC to earn her Ph.D. in Christian ethics and then to teach at California Lutheran University. She has written three books:

  • She Hath Done What She Could: A History of Women’s Participation in the Church of the Brethren
  • Women Don’t Count: The Challenge of Women’s Poverty to Christian Ethics
  • Globalization at What Price?: Economic Change and Daily Life

While all of this is impressive, that is not what I value the most about Pam. She is a down-to-earth friend for whom I have a lot of respect. Visiting with her is a delight. We hadn’t seen each other for many years (our memories are different about the length of time). I found her on Facebook a few months ago and we reconnected on-line. That’s what I love about the internet, helping us find friends with whom we have lost touch.

Yes, Pam and I did talk about our concerns for the future of our country and the world, how we see what is going on, our fears as well as where we find hope. But for me, those were not my most meaningful exchanges with her.

I feel safe with Pam and believe she feels safe with me as well, because our from-the-heart conversations inevitably go deep. On this visit, we shared our experiences of aging, the losses we are mourning and how we deal with loss, travels and experiences that have enriched our lives (my life was enriched visiting Pam in NYC while she was working on her Ph.D.), the ways in which life for us personally hasn’t turned out as we imagined and how we’re dealing with that, the ways we are managing retirement and life as it is, and what we are looking forward to at this time in our lives.

Pam & Linda at Cox Arboretum

We started our day with an early walk at Cox Arboretum, hoping to miss the heat of the day. A man noticed our taking pictures of each other, approached, and asked if we’d like him to take a picture of us together. After taking this picture, he said, “Remember, Jesus loves you.” We smiled, gave each other a knowing look, and affirmed, “Yes, we know that.”

After returning to my home, washing off the sweat and changing clothes, I gave Pam several choices for lunch. Because she had never eaten at a Bolivian restaurant, she chose Nelly’s.

I was thrilled when the waiter sat us in a secluded corner. We had a lot of catching up to do. Before long, their house specialty, Nelly’s slow-cooked Charcoal Rotisserie Chicken, arrived. Nelly’s has a reputation for serving the best chicken in Dayton and it doesn’t disappoint. Pam said it was the best she has ever eaten.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I knew when we scheduled this day, it would be over way too soon. These are precious moments for me. I’m blessed to count Pam as a friend and ever so grateful we are planning future re-connections.

Female Happiness

My Cincinnati Writer’s Group is made up of five women and one man. All of us are, well shall I say, striving to be wise elders. I found it interesting that when we gathered, all of us women were groaning about our topic “Happiness.” None of us found it easy to write about. What troubled me was what seemed to me our “giggles and rolling eyes of shame.”

Our one lone gentleman just smiled.

Isabelle in front row wearing pink top has moved to PA. Current group from left to right starting in back row: Jenny, Kate, Lynn, Jeanne, Linda, and Gary.

This is the fourth in my series on “happiness” and what follows are some of the things I found in my research which may account for our female discomfort and possibly ameliorate shame:

When asked “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life these days?” by World Happiness Report researchers, those citing high levels of satisfaction attributed it to “having a partner and a family life.” These are crucial factors in Western countries because of the decreased importance we give to the extended family.

Living alone was cited as a potent source of misery as was compromised health.

  • Four of the five women in our group do not have a partner. Three live alone.
  • Two of us singles are caregivers — one for an aging parent and the other has a disabled adult child living with her.
  • The partnered woman just returned from a disappointing visit to her children and grandchildren. Their busy lifestyles meant that she spent a lot of time alone. Even when they were together, her family members’ noses were often in their electronics.
  • Three of us singles have recently experienced a significant death of either a parent or a sibling.
  • One of us singles is currently experiencing some health challenges requiring a change in lifestyle, adding to her stress.

Two of us female singles are still in the workforce. Happiness research reveals that for adults, income is a more important contributor to happiness than education. People in well-paid roles are happier.

My research further revealed some interesting facts about the gender pay gap, a significant source of inequality for women. The American Association of University Women, a leader on the issue since 1894, reports that the gap has narrowed considerably in the last one hundred years. They attribute the narrowing since 1960 (when I graduated high school) largely to women’s progress in education and workforce participation and to men’s wages rising at a slower rate.

The gap is, however, still sizable, is worse for our sisters of color, and doesn’t seem likely to go away soon. In 2015, women working full time in the United States typically were paid just 80 percent of what men were paid, a gap of 20 percent. At the rate of change between 1960 and 2015, women are expected to reach pay equity with men in 2059.

But that slow progress has stalled in recent years. If change continues at the slower rate seen since 2001, women will not reach pay equity with men until 2152. No one living today will be alive to see it.

The World Happiness Researchers compared 2005-2011 with 2012-2015 and found that happiness inequality has increased significantly. And people living in societies where there is less inequality of happiness are happier. If I am reading their findings correctly, it seems that the issue of income inequality so prevalent in our country and across the world is a significant factor contributing to inequality of well-being.

Needless to say, the gender pay gap and income inequality in general have lifelong financial consequences. While we in our group don’t dwell on it, none of us single women experience financial security. We have all been creative in juggling our wants and needs with our purse strings.

My conclusion: The women in my writing group and women in general have nothing to be ashamed about regarding discomfort with the topic of “Happiness.” My admiration for the resilience of all women has only increased with my exploration and reflections on the topic.

Do you have a different reading about the World Happiness Report’s findings on “inequality of well-being?” If so, would you be willing to share it?
Have you ever experienced shame or being chastised for not exhibiting the requisite amount of “happiness?” If so, how did you feel and how did you handle it?
How have the findings of the World Happiness Report and AAUW researchers affected you?

 

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