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Welcome to the 60s

Well, hello 60.

Cue the Hairspray music, “Welcome to the 60’s.”

 

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Photo by Thomas Curryer on Unsplash

Yes, I’m 60 years old.

Doug planned a little party for me and announced in the invitation that “Her age has finally caught up to her era.”

My age now represents my era of hippies, women’s lib, The Beatles, peace, flower power, countercultural activities, revolution, and protests against social norms.

So for my 60th birthday,  I had a little countercultural, revolutionary experience of my own.

Call it an epiphany — like a little firework that went off in my head and illuminated something simple, but inspiring for me.

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It happened a few weeks before my birthday at an LDS Public Affairs Women’s Outreach Team event in the Relief Society Building on Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City.

I was listening to some remarkable women talk about the good, charitable things they are doing to make the world a better place.

I looked around the historic room in the Relief Society Building at the portraits on the wall of the past LDS Church Relief Society Presidents, and was surprised at the emotion that swept over me.

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Portraits of the Past Presidents of the Relief Society adorn the walls.

For those not a member of my faith, the Relief Society is the women’s organization of the Mormon church — the largest women’s organization in the world. Its purpose is to strengthen faith in homes and families and to relieve the suffering of those in need.

I feel deeply proud to be part of an organization with such a noble purpose.

And for a brief, beautiful moment in that Relief Society room, I felt apart from the world around me — separated from the news of hurricanes, political unrest and acrimony in the world.

I felt wrapped in something warm, uplifting, and powerful.

I looked around the room and saw a group of strong, compassionate, remarkable women — most of them working or volunteering for nonprofit associations that benefit other women, and I was struck by the immense value they add to the world.

I wondered if I was worthy to be in that room.

I listened to Sharon Eubank, the new first counselor in the general Presidency of the Relief Society, and the director of LDS Charities, a humanitarian organization that provides generous assistance to millions of people around the world.

Am I that dedicated? I wondered.

I certainly don’t have her large sphere of influence.

But, then the thought came to me — concentrate on your own sphere of influence.

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During the brief few hours I spent in that beautiful and historic Relief Society building, I felt uplifted and strengthened by the women around me and had a profound “countercultural” experience.

A simple message floated into my mind that said, “Be Like Them.”

I looked around the room at the portraits of past presidents, and into the faces of so many remarkable women I admire, and thought, “Yes, I want to be like them.”

I think the reason this epiphany hit me so powerfully was that I was … brace yourself … somehow, without even realizing it, comparing myself to other women and feeling like I should step up my game to be more like them.

I’m ashamed to say, I was thinking about their beauty, their clothes, their careers, their brilliance, their vacations, and even their beautifully decorated Halloween porches.

I didn’t even realize I was doing it until I felt that nudge to try to rise above those types of comparisons and strive to become more like the women in that room.

That little voice basically schooled me, saying,  “Hey, you’re capable of so much more. Why are you envying the woman with gold spray painted pumpkins on her porch?”

The message was so clear: Set your sights higher.

To me, that meant strive to be a quality woman, a woman of true faith and real substance.

It meant be more serene, accept yourself and your life and be happy; settle into yourself, embrace your role and find your own beautiful obsessions, which aren’t found in your closet or in the mirror or in the finest craft or furniture stores.

These qualities  — serenity, acceptance, increased faith, contentment — aren’t found in having more things like gold pumpkins on my porch.

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I’m hoping this new insight will last, that it will be etched in my psyche because aspiring to be a better person from the inside out actually seems within my reach.

It also brings more peace into my life than say, wanting to be taller, which would in turn make me thinner, which, unfortunately is not going to happen in this life.

 

Patricia Holland, one of my favorite inspirational speakers, said,  “I believe that as women we are becoming so concerned about having perfect figures, or straight A’s, or professional status, or even absolute motherly success, that we are being torn from our true selves. We often worry so much about pleasing and performing for others that we lose our own uniqueness, that full and relaxed acceptance of ourselves as a person of worth and individuality. Too many women watch helplessly as their lives unravel from the core that centers and sustains them. Too many are like a ship at sea without sail or rudder, tossed to and fro… until more and more of us are genuinely, rail-grabbingly seasick.”

The solution to this seasickness she says is finding “the steady footing and the stilling of the soul—by turning away from the fragmentation of physical preoccupations … and returning instead to the wholeness of our soul.”

Now, that feels countercultural — focusing on the wholeness of the soul instead of frantically obsessing over keeping up with everyone around me.

This is my welcome to the 60s.

If I can focus on improving the wholeness of my soul, the 60s might feel pretty darn good to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In Honor of October

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, I am reprinting this blog I wrote in response to a salon.com “open call” on the question, “What can’t you bring yourself to throw away?” While it’s a sad reminder of a period of my life I don’t want to revisit, it’s also a reminder that breast cancer is real, and still affecting far too many people. Let this be a reminder that screenings and early detection saves lives. Early detection definitely saved mine.

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It sits on the top shelf of my closet, inside a box, where I don’t have to look at it.

Most days I don’t even think about it.

I store breast cancer in my closet.

It comes in the form of a wig.

Not just any old wig — a custom-made, human hair wig that fit perfectly over my smooth bald head for nearly a year, giving the false impression to the world that I was in good health with a mane of beautiful blonde hair.

When a friend was diagnosed (the first in a series of six friends in four years since my diagnosis), I offered it to her as a gift.

I was done with it because it just shouted, “Cancer!” to me.

She gladly accepted it.

I was exuberant to let it go, like excess weight falling off my body, making me feel lithe, agile, and aloft.

Within days it showed up on my doorstep with a note: “Sorry, it didn’t fit.”

I held it cautiously like a snake I might pick up with a long, sturdy stick to keep it far from me until it could be tossed back into the woods where it belonged.

I could give it to the American Cancer Society, I thought, or just stuff it in the trashcan …

I didn’t have to keep it, but old ominous sayings ran through my head like, “If you get rid of it, you’ll need it.” Or, “If you keep it, you’ll never need it again.”

So I kept it, granting it a cancer-fighting power that would protect me from ever having to be caught up in the maelstrom of a cancer war again.

I tried to give it away at least three times, but it kept coming back with comments about it being too small.

Stupid small head anyway, I thought, as I marched upstairs to store it for the last time.

I climbed up on the stool, reached for the designated floral hat box on the top shelf of my closet, and stuffed it back in there for permanent keeping.

I worried that it kept coming back as a sign that I needed to keep it to ward off cancer.

Whatever works, I thought as I walked back downstairs.

Storing a wig in my closet is a small price to pay for being cancer-free.

I know this is insane, but old wives tales or not, I’m keeping that wig forever because getting rid of it makes me feel as naked, vulnerable and afraid as the day I looked into the mirror and saw a bald woman reflected in the glass, and realized it was me.