As a self-improvement book author, I have enjoyed the perk of being a guest speaker at several wellness spas. Ordinarily, many of the spas’ guests are women between the ages of 25 and 65, who visit the spa with the intention of sustaining a sense of vitality, or who are on a quest to find inner peace.
Most recently, I was invited to speak on two evenings at the beautiful and luxurious Canyon Ranch, in Tucson, Arizona. Since I’d already had the opportunity to speak at other high caliber spas, I assumed engaging the Canyon Ranch guests would be a walk in the park.
My experience the first evening proved that I’d assumed correctly. The guests (predominantly women around 45-years-old) were there to learn how to incorporate the five core values I mention in my book: Grace, Connectedness, Accomplishment, Adventure and Spirituality. The evening went well, so of course I anticipated the next evening’s speaking engagement to be just the same.
Boy, was I wrong.
The topic for the second evening’s discussion was on one of the core values: Adventure. In contrast to several other discussions I’ve led, where more than 50 women showed up with an arsenal of challenging questions, only eight people (seven women, one man) arrived. One by one, the guests came in and sat in chairs that were arranged in a circle. One might assume that the very presence of the man in the group would make it a little more difficult for me to lead the discussion. But on the contrary, he was an eager participant who was so curious to hear what his wife (one of the eight guests) and others had to say, and yes, to hear what I—the author and supposed expert—had to say about adventure.
Introductions were made, followed by an exercise I gave the group, in which the guests were asked to write their own definitions of Adventure, and if they’d incorporated it into their lives.
Once everyone completed the exercise, I asked them to voluntarily tell the rest of the group what they had written. As predicted, there was a resemblance between their responses and others I’d received in other discussion groups. For example:
“I define adventure as taking risks. But at my age, (44), I think taking risks is reckless.”
“I define adventure as travelling somewhere I have never been, like Costa Rica. But how can I do that when I have three children at home who depend on me?”
“I define adventure as travelling around the world. But I can’t afford it. So, nope, I don’t have adventure in my life.”
Right when I was about to make a point about the overall misperception that adventure has to involve a level of carelessness, one of the guests (dressed completely in black and who not only looked considerably older than everyone else in the group, but who may have been the oldest person to participate in any of my discussion groups) chimed in. “Hi, my name is Rosalie,” she said. “I didn’t speak out because I have incorporated adventure into my life. I also have to say, you are all missing the point. Adventures can be had and it is important to have them.”
Who could disagree with Rosalie? With the sparkle in her eyes and the certainty in her voice, it was evident she was a woman who incorporated adventure into her everyday life—with or without any of the anticipated risks.
As I heard Rosalie speak, I could not figure out why she would choose to listen to a much younger woman (perhaps a neophyte in her world) talk about the importance of adventure in our everyday lives. Maybe Rosalie was simply curious about what younger people had to say. But there seemed to be another reason why she showed up. One of the other guests seemed to have read my mind and volunteered to ask Rosalie why she showed up for the evening’s discussion.
Rosalie sat back in her chair, folded her delicate, arthritic fingers (that seemed to have weathered many years of hard work) on her lap and took a deep breath. She then leaned in and said, “My whole life has been an adventure. I grew up in Northern California and fell in love with my husband who was an engineer. We had a family. At one point, we decided to open up a winery in Napa. When he and I told our friends and families what we were about to do, everyone was incredulous. But we did it. We got our children involved. And now they run the business. Now, if my husband and I feared the possible consequences of taking such a risk, we would have never done it. I would probably be pretty upset that we didn’t do it. But we did. Best decision we ever made. But now, I am alone. I am lonely. My husband passed away two years ago. We were married 52 years. I don’t know who I am anymore, even though I am 79 (that’s not my real age and I’ll never share it).”
There was a moment of silence until another guest responded, “Don’t you have friends and family who can make you feel a little less lonely?”
To which Rosalie said with a slight grin, “I don’t know how old you are so you may not understand. My children are great to me, but they have their own lives to carry on. And yes, I have friends but many of them still have their husbands. And I do socialize at local events where our family’s wine is sold, but many people look at me as the old widow who wouldn’t be able to take care of herself. I may be lonely but that doesn’t mean I can’t carry on a conversation.”
Rosalie took a deep breath and continued, “You think aging is tough now; just wait until you are my age. So stop wasting your time thinking about what you can’t do because you CAN.”
At that moment, you could hear a pin drop. As someone who is usually not at a loss for words, I was speechless. I didn’t know how to respond. Everything I have learned thus far in life, Rosalie has already learned. And everything I have taught to my clients and in discussion groups, Rosalie has practiced. What I didn’t have was the true wisdom to help Rosalie face life without the love of her life of 52 years, and to help instill in her a sense of belonging in a society where ageism is a prominent feature.
I usually wrap up discussion groups with encouraging words that participants can take away with them, as they head out the door. But at the end of this particular discussion, I was stumped. I felt anything I could say would sound trivial compared to the profundity of Rosalie’s words. All I could do was tell the other guests that we all needed to heed Rosalie’s advice and allow ourselves to take risks. For without taking risks, we don’t remain curious. And without curiosity, we don’t have the chance to fully thrive.
This is the time to take risks and remain curious.
Thank you, Rosalie, for being an exemplar of Fortytude.
photo by Larry McCombs