March 18, 2011

Aging Gracefully with Authenticity and Compassion

This week's beauty is Elizabeth Dodson Gray who is 81-years-old.  Elizabeth is an author and well-known lecturer on ecofeminism. She recently celebrated her retirement after 32 years of leadership of the Theological Opportunities Program, a lecture series that began at the Harvard Divinity School. Fabulous pro-bono speakers have enabled more than 4300 participants from a multitude of faiths and backgrounds to find intellectual excitement, empowerment and nurturance in the mission of women committed to feminism, justice and peace.

Elizabeth has this to share about her life:

"After years of fashioning custom-made valentines for friends needing affirmation and encouragement in the 'season of love,' the after-effects of two breast cancer surgeries made it impossible for me to use my arm without pain.  So my husband and I reluctantly agreed we had to move to a different kind of creativity for our yearly Valentines. We decided to design a printed Valentines greeting which we could send to more of our friends. Our previous customized Valentines had been so personal and so closely adapted to each individual's life journey. The questions now became: "What one message is worth saying to more people? We searched and found a quote by Henri Frederic Amiel:

Life is short
 and we never have
   enough time
   for gladdening 
    the hearts
    of those
  who travel the way
     with us.
    Oh be swift to love!
      Make haste to be kind.

The first line resonated deeply in me because once you have a cancer diagnosis, the threat of dying hangs over you like the sword of Damocles. The injunction to 'gladden the hearts' of those who travel the way with us made enormous sense to me.
With my cancer I had stopped identifying with the healthy in the world and had begun identifying with the wounded and the sick. I saw myself in the wheelchair and behind the walkers. I needed to reach out to connect, to affirm, to empathize, to reassure, to 'notice,' to try and to 'gladden the heart.'  It was a profound turning point in my psyche, which I owe to that one particular Valentine.

I look for 'lines of beauty' in people's faces and lives, when they come from authenticity for themselves and compassion for others. Seeing oneself in all those who suffer, and are in need, is for me a key to beautiful living."

Elizabeth thank you so much for your wonderful contribution to Lines of Beauty.  In the wake of all the suffering that is occurring in Japan since the earthquake and tsunami, I think your piece is very timely.