She was not a pretty woman in the days of her youth. Her lips were too thin, her forehead too high and her eyes so round that they seemed to bulge into the lens of the glasses she wore.
But the lack of youthful beauty is a gift in old age, for a woman becomes just an old woman, not a faded beauty who has the sympathy of those who knew her then and can say, “You should have known her then. She was beautiful back in the day.”
In old age, her forehead was still high, but the skin around her eyes softened and fell in folds so that her eyes sank back and no longer bulged. Her lips were no thinner than those of others her age and her teeth were perfect, very white dentures that added a welcomed brightness to her face, for she smiled a lot.
Perhaps because she had worried little about cosmetics and spent no time tending to a beauty she did not possess, she invested that time in moments of true substance. She read several books a week, wrote her own stories that became books and, importantly, became a vessel of golden wisdom.
She did not squander time on life’s foolish pursuits — shopping for pretty dresses, attending parties, choosing a new lipstick color or taking beach vacations. She was, all would agree, a statue for sturdiness, a monument to women who looked life and its troubles squarely in the eye and stared down those challenges.
She married later in life but was widowed early, raised three young children alone, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with those who fought for civil rights in the 1960s South and, as a single mother and independent woman, blazed trails that behooved those of us who followed women like her.
Along the way, she acquired life’s strongest gift: wisdom. Some have a gift for that, you know. The smart ones — or maybe they’re the lucky ones — can see a situation or live an experience and from them, they will mine like gold an observation that becomes a treasure from life’s truth.
Then, the thoughtful ones —the ones who truly care about others — will share those jewels of wisdom with others.
She was one of those.
And if those others with whom the wisdom is shared will listen, they will learn.
I was one of those.
She was old, ancient in the thoughts of some, edging toward 90 years old when first I met her. That meant that my time to learn from her was short, but I was confident it would be meaningful. I knew that her life had been hard in all the ways that life can be hard — illnesses, death, finances — but what women like me often forget about women like her is that there was a time when women had few opportunities in the workplace.
“It was a man’s world,” she admitted. “The war changed that a bit. They went to fight and previously-unheard-of opportunities opened up for women. We filled the jobs in factories, newspapers and radio stations. In the beginning, we thought we were serving our country and would go back to our places at home when the men returned. But some of us found we liked being in the workplace.”
Was it a hard fight to keep her job at the newspaper when the war ended?
She smiled and shrugged.
“Life is always full of some kind of fights going on. Better to fight for something worth something — something that will change the world for the better,” she said, covering my hand with hers. “Sometimes those fights will seem small to you. It might be over an injustice done to one person rather than a whole race. It may not seem worth fighting, but if it makes the way smoother for that one person, then it is a fight well fought.”
Beautiful wisdom beautifully stated.
Rich is the author of “There’s A Better Day A-Comin.’” Go to www.rondarich.com to sign up for her newsletter.