From "Every Woman Has a Story," by Daryl Ott Underhill. Used with permission of Warner Books.

Circles fascinate me. Our lives are full of them, from a baby's teething ring to the rims of granny's reading glasses. The circles that have changed me most were formed by people holding hands. The "circle of decades" at my friend Carol's croning ceremony will always be in my memory, like a safety ring tied to the side of a boat. In case of near drowning, I'll toss it out and use it to stay afloat until the storm subsides.

It began as a gathering of women in the rosy amber twilight of a spring evening in Tucson. We were friends whose lives were about to intertwine in a strong braid of shared experience. Our leader asked us to sum up the memories of each decade of our lives.

"What was it like to be in your twenties?" I was glad I wasn't the first to speak, because it took a moment for me to reconnect with that intense, fiery, burn-the-candle-at-three-ends woman/child of the 1960s who I had been. Sensuous and fanatically serious, I was mesmerized with dreams of impossible achievement. Memories of graduate school in Berkeley crashed like breakers on my heart as I could almost hear the distant refrain of "We shall overcome . . ." It was certainly interesting to have been in my twenties in that era, but I could also remember the skimp of the miniskirt and the size-five jeans that I slithered into like a snake shedding its skin in reverse. I felt relief when those of us no longer in our twenties were asked to take a step forward, tightening the circle.

"Now, share what it was like to be in your thirties," our leader prompted. My eyes closed. Sounds of birth cries, the primal embrace of a totally trusting swaddled infant, the smell of baby powder and diapers overwhelmed me. I had discovered the most difficult and rewarding job of all, motherhood, at the age of thirty. My thirties were a time of changed priorities, deflated party balloons, struggle with budgets, and plain hard work. Would I willingly return to that time of snowsuits and runny noses, putting the Christmas tree in the playpen to keep it from the toddlers? I don't think so, but I didn't want to step forward, either.

Because the next step was the forties, and those who had experienced this decade sighed with me. How could ten short years have held such highs and lows? I wished the twilight were a little deeper so no one could see the tears creeping down my cheeks, but other faces were also glistening. My story of ending a nineteen-year marriage and remarrying a man more attuned to my heart was not unique. Many others had found the forties to be a decade of major endings and beginnings. My hard-won career as a biologist, desperately precious to me at one time, had changed into a more spiritual and philosophical path. This decade, which began in gut-stabbing sorrow, ended in joy.

Another inward step, this time not so tentative, brought us to the fifties. Eyes began to sparkle again and I heard the giggles of those relieved to have once more survived their forties. We who were privileged to stand in the fifties decade shared newly explored interests, old talents polished like jewels, and we were finding our true path and power.

As each woman shared her joyful enthusiasm for inner growth, I began to wonder what the next step would bring. What would women in their sixties share? Could that decade possibly be as good as the fifties, or was it the downward side of the mountain, as I had always been led to expect. I held back as the circle squeezed closer.

One by one, the members of the inner circle shared stories of personal freedom, new loves, the joys of grandchildren, travel and adventures, punctuated with smiles and glowing glances. All this enthusiasm caught my attention like a snow cone on a June afternoon. There was something worth knowing here. The women in this circle of decades were becoming more profoundly happy as they matured. A sliver of doubt wedged in my mind that maybe it was just something about the sixties decade that was so rewarding. Surely, the seventies would be different. My doubts didn't last long.

Our leader proudly stepped forward, the only representative of the seventies, to become the heart of our circle. We raised her in our hearts like team members parading a triumphant star athlete. Her vigorous, wise-woman leadership spoke decibels louder than any words she could say. What I experienced that afternoon in the "circle of decades" helped me edit my life's script so that I look forward to the challenges and transitions ahead.

The ancient ceremony of croning was conducted when a woman stopped menstruating. It was an initiation into a "wise women's club," enabling the women to hold positions of power. Cay's story was based on a croning ceremony she attended. "It was a unique opportunity for us to review our lives. This moment of honest sharing gave me the priceless gift of a new vision, a hopeful pattern for aging." Cay is a professional intuitive consultant, she lectures on various topics related to creativity and intuitive development, and she teaches a course entitled "Intuitive Heart Discovery Process."

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