Measure of a Life Post-Career and Child-raising


I want to live with a “dancing heart.” Not just now, in this moment. But for the rest of my life. Why does this seem harder now, when I have more freedom of time and space than when my career and child-raising were in full swing? I’m aware of needing to be more intentional about what I eat, how I exercise, amount of sleep and the use of my time. Arthritic joints, a tendency towards ADD, and life-long mood swings have always challenged me. But somehow the hectic pace of raising a beloved child, growing and maintaining a fulfilling career, and taking on interesting leadership roles in socially active organizations eclipsed the tough times. I thrived on being needed and understood clearly my roles in life.

Understanding why my life matters and choosing how to live it well confronts me differently in this my seventh decade.  Now I have to believe in myself without the feedback of concrete career achievements and the pride in my child’s small steps towards adulthood. My career is done. My child is grown. And although I love being a grandmother, and look forward to ever greater delights in this role (subject of a future post!), only my husband lives in my geographic proximity (and his working full time means I can’t just roll smoothly from “working person” to “retired couple” status — oh dear, another post topic for the future!).

I still acquire new skills. I take tennis lessons, voice lessons, and hopefully am learning to navigate the ins and outs of writing a blog, but these are not the measurements of my life. My religious commitments do not hold me so comfortably as in the past. Everything seems to be in question — like a second adolescence but with enough life experience to not get discouraged easily.

As I gaze around our sitting room, I see my collection of children’s picture books, and am drawn to several to seek a few clues about what guideposts to use as I consider “the measure of a life,” the measure of my life. (While I’m quite aware that the word “measure” may imply for some that I am limiting myself to linear quantitative thinking, I want to assure you I am not.)

Today I’ll look at a book that my daughter gave to me several years ago, Libba Moore Gray’s My Mama Had a Dancing Heart. In the first wonderful illustration by Raul Culon, a mother and daughter lounge with legs outstretched at the top of an outside porch steps, with text that reads, “My mama had a dancing heart and she shared that heart with me.”

I so hope my daughter gave me this book because she believes I shared a dancing heart with her. Given my periodic bouts with depression and an ambitious drive towards excellence and competency in my chosen profession, I sometimes wondered whether the joy and dancing heart that is also part of who I am, and that she always evoked in me, got through to her. Was my sharing “adequate.”

Now I glance on the facing page with the author’s dedication to her children, “who through the years have made my heart dance.” And I somehow know that it is in the sharing of mutual delight where the dancing heart knows its greatest expression. In this place of exchange of energies, the issue is not one of adequacy but presence, showing up.

This is where I must begin this year’s journey living my perplexities and discoveries of next steps.  Where do I live with a dancing heart? In what activities and times of sitting quietly do I experience my heart dancing? And can I trust that when I live with a dancing heart, the sharing of that joy is completely and utterly of its essence.



About helena grace

Actively seeking how to live in this seventh decade of my life with creativity, compassion, and imagination. While I'm a retired lawyer/mediator and life-long community activist especially in child advocacy, my relationships with others, two-legged and four-legged, define the source of my growth. My spiritual life connects deeply with music and in the community of the creative. I treasure being a mother, wife, grandmother, and daughter. I experience glimpses of the divine in children's illustrated books, peoples of the world, artists, especially of indigenous art forms. I am intrigued at the possibility of finding kindred spirits in the blogosphere, and exploring how to be authentic and maintain a sense of the sacred, and perhaps the private, in such a global dimension.

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