We talk all the time: to our neighbors as we pass them in the morning, on the phone to family members at long distance, or over a meal with friends. Most of our conversations are pleasant, but rarely do they jar us, make us see the world differently and touch our souls.
But every now and then, if we’re lucky, we have the chance to engage in deep conversations that awaken us to what life is all about.
I participated in such a conversation last Saturday when I drove to Tenants Harbor, Maine,” to interview Connie Chandler-Ward and Adelaide Winstead.
I first met Connie, 80 and Adelaide, 90, in 2003 when I made my way to Greenfire, a women’s spiritual retreat center in Tenants Harbor. I discovered Greenfire on the Internet in search of solace when a long time relationship was unraveling. Connie, a former chaplain at Wellesley College and an Episcopal priest was one of the founders of Greenfire, which opened in 1996. Adelaide, a tapestry artist, and long time friend of Connie’s, joined Greenfire shortly after it’s opening. (Greenfire closed its doors in 2007.)
Knowing that both Connie and Adelaide are deeply reflective women with active minds, I was curious to learn what understandings guide them in their advanced years. What follows is Part 1 of my interview—Part 2 comes tomorrow.
Pat: How do you feel about being elders?
Connie: I don’t want to carry the tag of “elder.” It feels too judgmental—passing on wisdom I decide is important.
Adelaide: “Elder” feels too ego-driven, too self-important.
Connie: I’m happy to pass along my life experiences, but without adding value to them.
Pat: How would you describe yourselves? (They chose to answer this question by describing the other.)
Connie: Adelaide looks at the world as an artist. She sees color and beauty and connects from this perspective. Her fabric art has been part of her spiritual journey.
Adelaide: I see the raw as beautiful. I find energy in the raw. By this I mean beauty in the imperfect. This is a change brought on by aging and my changing body. I now find the imperfect, like clumps of weeds, more acceptable. My body may be ugly in some ways, but I have never loved it more.
Pat: And how would you describe Connie?
Adelaide: Connie’s spiritual journey is powered by her energetic connections. She has a huge youthful energy contained within her. She gives the impression of being quieter than she is. When not talking, she’s observing.
Connie: My form of energy is always wondering, expanding my awareness of everything. I’m also aware of what’s lost—not just friends and loved ones but my memory. I have trouble with names. I see this as a gift it that it becomes an introduction to mystery rather than knowing.
Adelaide: The minute you name something via knowledge, then you stop looking.
Pat: Can you expand on what you mean by “mystery”?
Connie: When you’re old all that’s left is mystery. The world is bigger. Boundaries disappear. Mystery is present when language and images fall away. Then one moves from looking at a particular thing to its essence. It’s hard to define because in a sense it’s nothing. Or nothing is in the way of looking.
Adelaide: My life is now about nothingness. I love staying put in my house by the ocean. I often daydream sitting by the water. This experience gives meaning to my life.
Stay tuned. In Part 2, tomorrow, Connie and Adelaide share their views on making preparations to live out their lives in their own homes, additional gifts aging has brought, and their thinking about death.