Reviews & Misc Spiritual Practice

Mary Pipher: Can We Flourish as We Age? “Women Rowing North”.

This book of Mary Pipher’s has the strong asset of valuable epigraphs at the head of each chapter.  I’m just going to list the sections, chapter titles, and epigraphs from each chapter in Women Rowing North.

It says something that Mary Pipher’s most frequent source for these excellent short quotes is Eleanor Roosevelt. Right?

Mary Pipher, Women Rowing North

About 20 years ago, writing for a rural Nebraska newspaper, I was privileged to interview Mary for my column.  We met at The Mill (coffee shop) in the Haymarket, downtown Lincoln, for a delightful (at least for me) time of conversation.  You can see part of the results at a subsequent post here: “Good Sense: An Interview with Mary Pipher“.

Her penultimate book is Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age (2020).  Since men, if luck is with them, also undergo ageing, I find a lot to value here.  It’s vintage Mary Pipher – realistic, honest, sensitive, respectful, lots of stories or examples, very valuable ethical perspectives.  That last is most crucial and too rare.    (Her latest is A Life in Light: Meditations on Impermanence.)

Epigraphs, chosen by Mary Pipher …


I have everything I need to be happy right between my ears.  – Jane Jarvis

I. Challenges of the Journey

1. A New Stretch of the River

The trouble is that old age is not interesting until one gets there, a foreign country with an unknown language to the young, and even to the middle-aged.  – May Sarton

The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.  – Eleanor Roosevelt

2. The Lay of the Land

I deserve better – such a dangerous, mad thought for a woman to entertain. – Meredith Duran

Women may be the one group that grows more radical with age. – Gloria Steinem

3. The Worn Body

Dread of one’s own aging leads to fear and dislike of old people, and the fear feeds upon itself.  In Western society, this cycle of dread has been going on a long, long time. – Alexandra Robbin

We wither, sag, wrinkle, crinkle, tatter, and become marked by life’s events.  Time and gravity, air and water wear us down, each into a unique and precious beauty, every bit as beautiful as a landscape or plant weathered by the seasons. – Stephanie Sugars

4. Intensity and Poignancy

For the first time, I was pierced by the little panic and tristesse occasioned by small things passing irrevocably from view. – Faith Sullivan

Today a red fox ran down through the corn stubble; He vanished like smoke. I want to praise things that cannot last. – Barbara Crooker

5. Caregiving

In all our contacts, it is probably the sense of being really needed and wanted which gives us the greatest satisfaction and creates the most lasting bond. – Eleanor Rossevelt

6. Swept Away

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind; Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.  I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned. – Edna St. Vincent Millay

Life was meant to be lived, and curiosity myst be kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life. – Eleanor Roosevelt

7. Loneliness and Solitude

Life may be brimming over with experiences, but somewhere, deep inside, all of us carry a vast and fruitful loneliness wherever we go. – Etty Hillesum

II. Travel Skills

8. Understanding Ourselves

A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water. – Eleanor Roosevelt

Nobody will protect you from your suffering.  You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away.  It’s just there, and you have to survive it.  You have to endure it.  You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can … aross the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal. – Cheryl Strayed

9. Making intentional Choices

One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes … And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility. – Eleanor Roosevelt

There is nothing inevitable. The actions of the past operate in every instant and so, at every instant, does freedom. – Nan Shin

10. Buiding a Good Day

One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats. – Iris Murdoch

Habit has a kind of poetry. – Simone de Beauvoir

11. Creating Community

Develop skin as tough as a rhino’s hide. You cannot take anything personally. You annot bear grudges. You must finish the day’s work when the day’s work is done. Don’t be easily iscouraged. Take defeat over and over, pick yourself up, and go on. – Eleanor Roosevelt

Empathy … is the most revolutionary emotion. – Gloria Steinem

12. Crafting Resplendent Narratives

A few stories are sinking ships, and many of us go down with these ships even when the lifeboats are bobbing all around u … We think we tell stories, but stories often tell us, tell us to love or to hate, to see or to be blind. Often, too often, stories saddle us, ride us, whip us onward, tell us what to do and we do it without questioning. – Rebecca Solnit

It is memory that provides the heart with impetus, fuels the brain, and propels the corn plant from seed to fruit. – Joy Harjo

13. Anchoring in Gratitude

There was in all living things something limpid and joyous – like the wet, morning call of the birds, flying up through the unstained atmosphere. – Willa Cather

Give thanks for unknown blessings that are already on their way. – Native American prayer

III. The People on the Boat

14. Travel Companions

I felt it shelter to speak to you. – Emily Dickinson

Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born. – Anais Nin

15. Co-Captains

A long-term marriage has to move beyond chemisty to compatibility, to friendship, to companionship. It is certainly not that passion disappears, but the it is conjoined with other ways of love. – Madeleine L’Engle

It’s wonderful to be married to an archeologist – the older you get the more interested he is in you. – Agatha Christie

16. The Lifeboat of Family

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. – Jane Howard

Family life! The United Nations is child’s play compared to the tugs and splits and need to understand and forgive in any family. – May Sarton

17. Grandchildren

Heirlooms we don’t have in our family. But stories we’ve got. – Rose Chernin

You can never really live anyone else’s life, not even your child’s. The influence you exert is through your own life, and what you’ve become yourself. – Eleanor Roosevelt

IV. The Northern Lights

18. Moon River: Authenticity and Self-Acceptance

I think that somehow, we learn who we really are and then live with that decision. – Eleanor Roosevelt

I am luminous with age. – Meridel Le Sueur

19. The Long View

The great thing about getting older is that yo do’t lose all the other ages you’ve been. – Madeleine L’Engle

Live as though your ancestors were living again through you. – Greek saying

20. Everything Is Illuminated

We live in the womb of the universe and everything is designed to help us be safe, happy, and loved. We only must choose to notice this beauty all around us. – Joanne Friday

Old age is not an illness, it is a timeless ascent. As power diminishes, we grow toward more light. – May Sarton

I regard Mary Pipher as one of our modern prophets (of which there are really quite a few).

She sees and describes carefully our personal and societal contexts, experiences, dangers, fears and losses, possibilities and blessings. She gives clear, useable, and crucial insights into the moral and psychological realities that can guide us more safely than might otherwise be the case.  That’s pretty important. That’s very important. So, she’s a treasure.  Thank you for your life’s work, Mary.

(See the book on Amazon here: Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age (2020).)
See Also on PublicChristian: “Good Sense: An Interview with Mary Pipher
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