Last night, MORE Magazine asked me to introduce Joan Anderson at Borders. So I read her two memoirs, A Year By The Sea and The Second Journey, dog-eared pages, pulled out inspiring quotes.

And then I was inspired by her gravelly voice, her wind-burned face, her blond bushy hair.

Joan likes to say she is an “unfinished woman.” Fifteen years ago, she left her husband to live on Cape Cod for a year. She didn’t end her marriage, but she left him nonetheless because with him, she wasn’t sure she could find herself.

And find herself she did. Ever since. Joan has hosted dozens of women at a time for self-empowerment weekends, and she’s been writing books. Some of her weekend women were part of the huge crowd last night, and one of them is my aunt’s lifelong friend, Joanie. I’m amazed sometimes by how small the world really is.

In any case, here are some of the amazing points Joan had to offer:

Give yourself permission to become who you are.

Find your purpose, your bliss, your gift, whatever you were meant to do – if you want to get to adult love and adult life.

There are 8,700 hours in a year – if you can’t find 24 for yourself, it’s pitiful.

Be the unconventional original you were meant to be.

Have secrets.

More than that, Joan asked questions, she made me think. She asked the women in the audience, “Who are you beyond the roles that you play?” That is crucial for women especially since so often we lose ourselves in being mothers, wives, friends, daughters, sisters, workers.

And then she said the thing which made me smile. She said some people make change while others wait for change to be thrust upon them. And that’s when it came home to me.

In less than a week, I will go to court and my divorce will become final. I’m a little bit scared about that, I must admit, because the word final is so, well, final. But when the divorce is final, that means the next part of my life can fully begin. In many ways, I’ve been building that part of my life already since October – but we’ve been suspended in limbo, in transition, all this time, like cobwebs from the light fixture to the smooth ceiling that the broom just can’t reach.

In our culture, we cling to things, even after their usefulness is outlived, says Joan Anderson. It takes bravery to give away the baby clothes in the basement because it’s admitting you may not have any more children. And it takes courage to end a relationship that isn’t working.

Joan quoted her mentor and friend Joan Erikson as saying that the greatest loneliness is not knowing who you are. And that’s something I’m not willing to face.

I’ve long believed that I can’t truly be intimate with another person until I’ve been completely alone with myself. I told that to a man recently who was interested in sharing my life. Instead of working around the clock or renting movies, I booked a week-long vacation for the first week that my children will be away with their father this summer. A vacation with myself to a place I’ve never been, literally and figuratively. And I can’t wait to see the landscape, experience the flavors.

Joan Anderson says she begins each day with a walk in nature, where she offers praise, thanksgiving, and petition. That is how the Jewish daily prayers are structured – except in the prayerbook, the words are given to you. There’s only one spot for spontaneous originality.

I dare to say that we need more space for our own words. I charge everyone to begin their days with something meaningful specifically to you. That’s why rigid, proscribed religion doesn’t work for me. Because I come seeking meaning – not a uniform, not a script, not a country club.

Joan Anderson says that ever since she went off to seek herself, she has created a life where every single day has meaning for her. It’s a goal I think we’d all be wise to shoot for. Try it today. Praise, thanksgiving, petition – for yourself, for your life, so that when you sit down to look at the past year and notice all the things that happened, you don’t come up blank. May we all live a life of meaning, the way we were meant to.


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