Reprinted with permission from "Crones Don't Whine" and by arrangement with Red Wheel, Weiser and Conari Press.

There is a medieval sound to the word "crone" and a mischievous note to the suggestion that a woman would aspire to be one. It's not what any of us aspired to be in our youth, but that was when an older woman never told her true age, and before women came into their own as people in their own right or lived as long as we now do. I am proposing that it is time to reclaim and redefine "crone" from the word pile of disparaging names to call older women, and to make becoming a "crone" a crowning inner achievement of the third phase of life.

Most crones could define their lives as an improvised work in process. Wherever they are at this moment in their lives was not a planned destination. It could be said that they have had many "incarnations" in this life, looking back upon many phases, places, and people who were important at different stages in their lives.

The singer and actress Madonna may be celebrated as a role model for reinventing herself, but such is in fact the case for many women, especially those around sixty, who grew up through wars and major social revolutions which affected them personally. There has been no single track for us to be on. It's not at all unusual for this generation to have married more than once, have had live-in relationships and several or many sexual partners. Some had children early and are grandmothers. Some became mothers late as others their same age were entering early menopause. Some remarried and raised blended families. Some adopted orphans from foreign countries.

As a crone-aged woman, your family of origin may be geographically far away from where you live now. You may also be living a far different life from theirs. Depending on marital status and circumstance, you could have lived in poverty or on welfare, managed as an unemployed single parent, married wealth, or been a suburban mom-at different times in your life. You may have begun your own business, or made and lost paper profits in stocks. You or women you know may live or have lived in a commune or an ashram, be part of a Buddhist sangha, or become a Protestant minister.

You could have entered professions and occupations which once did not allow women into them or admitted only token women, or you may have been a full-time homemaker, or been employed in a traditional woman's job. You may even have stayed in the same town, married to the same man, and raised a family.

Regardless of what came before, changes in circumstance usually happen during the crone years. Retirement begins, which can last longer than your active work life if you take early retirement and have a long lifespan. Women usually outlive their husbands, making widowhood a whole new phase. Nests empty, and the fledglings may end up living far away.

Flexibility, resourcefulness, good health, friends, the ability to learn and keep on growing, being needed or doing service, having absorbing interests, and the ability to enjoy your own company, are qualities and possibilities that make improvising a good life possible. With curiosity and an adventuresome spirit, some crones discover a whole new world of interest. Some finally take something up that has lain fallow for decades. There are late-bloomers in all aspects of life. When Mom becomes a widow, for example, her grown children often are surprised at how independent she becomes, how much she travels or takes care of the business.

The crone phase is a time when many women look for ways to "give back." Well aware of how many opportunities they had, crones fill volunteer ranks in every community, are advocates and activists at every level.

A crone is herself. She accepts change, appreciates the good in her life, grieves for what dies or loses vitality, and goes on. Her identity is not defined by her social or occupational roles; what she does and who she shares her life with are expressions of who she is, not her identity. When it's time to let go of one phase of her life, she can, which makes a next phase possible. Truth is, she does not exactly reinvent herself intentionally; rather she is improvising, adapting to change, responding to what engages her energy.

If the metaphor is music, her instrument is herself and the deep theme of her song follows the beat of her heart. Each phase is like a different movement in a major work, with variations on her theme. Until the music ends, crones will improvise.

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