What compelled me to write Warm Cup of Wisdom?
Surprisingly, new questions register in life right when you might have assumed you should be older and wiser.
A few years ago, I found myself agonizing over several personal relationships gone awry. I had long talks with friends and checked out self-help books, but things didn’t improve much. My mantra – “calm, wise, kind” – wasn’t working. In my mid-fifties, I thought I would be wiser.
Talking with other friends my age – baby boomers and beyond – I found I was not alone. One was facing an empty nest and feeling anxious about finding a new direction. One was torn by a blowup with her brother. One faced divorce, another the death of her husband. Another went back to school for a degree in something new but wasn’t sure how to proceed. Most of us could have used a mentor.
So I decided to be pro-active. I realized I knew several women, about a generation older, who seemed resilient and resourceful, calm and clear-headed. Many of them had weathered traumas and made successful transitions at midlife. As a former reporter, I knew how to interview people. What would happen, I thought, if I asked them these questions and gathered their answers in one place?
Warm Cup of Wisdom: Inspirational Insights on Relationships and Life is the result. Based on the issues my friends and I were facing, I created a list of twenty questions any self-reflective person might want to discuss. Then I sat down with nine women, one by one, and asked them each the same questions. Far from reticent, they were open and honest. Their answers, varied and complex, surprised and delighted me. No single roadmap works for everyone. But once I gathered their insights for this book, I realized I had, at the very least, nine new mentors.
What do I hope readers will get out of Warm Cup of Wisdom?
Seeking wisdom, I discovered, can be a life practice. Getting wiser with age is not a given. But it’s possible, if you set about it with a clear intention, reach out to people, and dare to ask questions. This book can help readers get started.
First, the book contains specific pragmatic approaches to common problems – a set of “mental tools” that can help reshape the way we think and react. Whatever issues you’re facing now, you can jump to the relevant chapters. The stories may inspire you and give you concrete ideas. A list of “takeaways” at the end of each chapter is handy for quick reference.
Second, I hope I have modeled a way of seeking wisdom. You can go to people you admire and ask them to tell you their outlook on life’s major challenges. Despite their busy lives, I found that some people love to be asked. By opening up and asking pointed questions, you may build a closer relationship with someone you know and feel the warmth of getting closer to a mentor. In the future, you can go to that person when you face a particular problem.
Also, I hope that the twenty questions in this book will spark many lively discussions between you and your friends. These questions deal with important stuff, relevant to just about anyone – men and women of any age, of any religion or national origin. Whether you belong to a book club, a religious group, or a set of classmates, I hope you will pick one or two of these questions and start a lively, meaningful conversation. Not only might this give you some ideas you hadn’t thought of before, it might also bring you closer to your friends and provide mutual support that enriches your life.
You don’t have to be wise to start on this journey.
How did writing Warm Cup of Wisdom change my outlook on life?
Wisdom, I discovered, can be found among ordinary people – especially our elders. I realized that I don’t need to limit myself to reading books by Mother Theresa or the Dalai Lama or Deepak Chopra to get inspirational insights. I can find wisdom in ordinary people I know.
Writing this book also gave me a new outlook on aging. America is famous for being a youth-oriented culture, valuing energy and doing. We try to hide our advancing age with wrinkle creams and hair dye. In other cultures, older people are treasured and consulted as wisdom-keepers. I learned firsthand how important it is to validate and value the wisdom of our elders.
Recently, I turned sixty. Instead of trying to ignore my birthday as an embarrassment, I embraced it with a new attitude. By coincidence, the proof copy of this book arrived at the same week as my birthday. To celebrate the book – and get their blessings – I gathered with the women I interviewed. In one woman’s sunny back patio, we drank iced tea and ate tea sandwiches without the crusts. These wise elders read poems and gave me advice and turned it into an event welcoming me into elderdom. With them as role models, I can look forward to a new stage of life with more self-understanding, better relationships, compassion, and a meaningful role to play. Someday I can become a sage.
You know, I never sat down with my mother and asked her these questions. I assumed she would be reluctant to answer such personal questions. Yet the women I interviewed were not. Last year, at the age of 92, my mom died. I wish I had at least tried.