Discerning Reader: Emotional Resilience

My parents and mother-in-law were about to arrive in Sea Island, Ga., to stay with me for the weekend.

I cleaned the cottage and bought flowers. I made dinner reservations and freshened my lipstick. I was browsing at the G.J. Ford Bookshop on St. Simons Island when I happened upon a new book — Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age by Mary Pipher. I hadn’t read any reviews, but I liked its cover. And I was familiar with the author’s blockbuster from 1994, Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls.

I took a chance and bought three copies — one for my mother, one for my mother-in-law, one for me. Honestly I thought the book would be more helpful for them. They’re each facing big challenges. My mother-in-law recently lost her husband of 25 years after caring for him for seven of them as he slowly died from cancer. My mother and father are dealing with significant health issues both together and alone. They’re on different journeys in the same home, married for 55 years.

As it turns out, I want to give this book to most of my girlfriends — those of us in our 40s and 50s who still feel pretty young and who also feel like life is serving up some pretty big challenges. I gulped down this book as if I were dying of thirst in the desert.

“The core concern of this life stage, with all of its perils and pleasures, is how to cultivate resilient responses to the challenges we face. … We can go deep and face truth squarely. We can learn the skills that allow us to adapt to anything. Yes anything,” Mary Pipher begins.

That’s a great place to start. Pipher continues by relating the stories of women she’s worked with as a psychologistover the years through composite sketches. She distills lessons from their lives. It’s self-help/self-care offered up by your smartest, most energetic and kindest grandmother.

“Even though we all suffer, we don’t all grow. … We don’t become our wisest selves without effort. Our growth requires us to become skilled in perspective taking, in managing our emotions, in crafting positive narratives, and in forming intimate relationships. We develop the skills of building joy, gratitude and meaning into every day. By learning these lessons, we cultivate emotional resilience,” she writes.

“Over the years [of traveling together], my friends and I have discovered many empty, wild places. Invariably, when we get lost or something goes wrong, one of us reminds the others, ‘Remember the first rule of the wilderness: don’t panic,' ” she writes.

Pipher is honest, friendly, a straight-talker. Women Rowing North inspires and encourages. “Perhaps the book’s core lesson is simply ‘Everything is workable,’ ” Pipher writes. That’s a message I want to hear. (Oh, and my mother and mother-in-law really liked the book too.)