by Holly Mohr
Today is my birthday.
I love birthdays. Whatever else has to happen on the day, something internally tells me it’s a Feast Day, a day of celebration and special joy.
So far, I’m enjoying the sense of getting older. While I’m trying to mentally prepare myself for the fact that my attitude may change at some point, for now, I like seeing each number as a valuable addition to a collection. I would like to collect as many as possible and live into each one in the way it uniquely invites.
When I was in college, each August Vogue magazine would release its “Age Issue.” It would feature profiles on a woman leading a beautiful and inspiring life from each decade, 20s to 90s. I fucking loved it. I especially loved that the older the women got, the more interesting they seemed to be. (Polly Mellen definitely sparked my imagination more than Dakota Fanning, let’s be honest).
It was then, at age 20, that I decided to love and embrace my life, the whole of it, whatever that ends up meaning. I decided to see each decade as its own special project, maybe inviting me to focus on a particular theme in each. (No need to figure out the themes in advance; I want them to reveal themselves as they come).
No rose-colored glasses: I know pain and suffering come (and have come already in a variety of forms). I know with aging comes limitation. But I have also seen age bring internal freedom, poise, understanding and generosity. (I’ve seen this go the other way, too—age can certainly bring constriction of heart and a clinging to the familiar, often with deadening results).
But what it comes down to for me is this: so often, there is so much more than we know. More that we can do, more that needs to be done by us, more to be delighted by, deeper connections to make and more to explore. I want to test it all as long as I can, with as much joy and generosity as I can muster, each possible day of my life. And when it finally does come time to let go completely, I pray to have the grace to surrender with trust.
I’m lucky to have a mélange of inspiring people in my life. Vogue may have retired (ha) its Age Issue years ago (why, Vogue, why?!), but its contents live within sight every day. From my children and younger colleagues, to friends ranging from my own age to several decades older, to the eighty plus year olds who have shown me how suck the juices out of life, I have teachers all around me.
This past week, I lost one my most beloved people, one of those people for whom it isn’t hyperbole to call them “life changer.” And while it does feel a little impossible to realize I will never speak to her on this earth again (and while it has felt impossible to know I couldn’t talk to her in any real way for the past two years, as she struggled with dementia), even in death, she brings me peace and inspiration.
Her name was Ellen (or Sr. Mary Ellen). She was this witty, profoundly compassionate, kickass progressive nun. It’s no exaggeration to say she led me to liberation, to agency, to the “pearl of great price” in many ways. Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Ellen took that seriously and heard it as her special mission.
A sister from Ellen’s order wrote the death notice and reflection on her, noting that Ellen had adopted a “personal mission statement.” Her mission had been to help free any individual she could, but especially women, “from whatever bound them.” If the stories I’ve heard in the past few days are any indication, I’m far from the only one who looks at Ellen’s eighty-four years with abundant gratitude and wide-eyed astonishment: mission accomplished.
Ellen used every ounce of her life to bless others and to be true to herself. How can I do anything but celebrate that and aim to honor my own mission?
It’s a tall order, I know, and maybe it sounds a little optimistic, but seriously, what the fuck is the alternative? For as long as possible, I choose to choose gratitude and exploration.