AFTER 28 years of marriage, my husband and I decided to divorce. Highly visible in our community, our carefully constructed illusion of the perfect family unit was about to be exposed for what it really was—a house of smoke and mirrors. Overcome with sadness—first, to tear asunder what God had joined together, but then to realize there were only a precious few among my circle I could turn to for comfort. You see, I knew how to play the social sport of one-upmanship, but I had yet to learn how to make, or to be, a true friend.
Rebuilding community after painful midlife transitions is a slow, deliberate process. Brick by brick, I deconstructed my old life but was unsure how to start anew. Often I tried to identify just what it was I desired in this last third of my life. My children successfully launched, thankfully, I was financially secure. Long retired from my career, I spent countless hours working as a volunteer in my community and in service projects abroad. Feeling braver each day, I even tiptoed into the terrifying world of cyber dating. Soon I learned that dating was a fun and busy distraction, but for the most part, men my age were struggling with their own issues of identity confusion, brought on by retirement, health issues and financial insecurity.
One day I realized it was the new women I was meeting, who were increasingly the people whose company I preferred. For instance, my female financial planner seemed to genuinely care about teaching me to confidently manage my finances. The service trips I took to Haiti after the earthquake were groups of women volunteers. The community organizers—leaders of my neighborhood watch group, political action coalitions, preservation and environmental-stewardship projects —all women. I was meeting more and more women my age who saw big issues, or even little corners of the neighborhood that needed attention, and without hesitation, rolled up their sleeves and got busy sweeping, planning, executing—not stopping until the job was done. Never had I dreamed that life could feel so purposeful again, as I worked alongside these cadres of women engaged in civic enterprise.
Eureka! I needed women, and I imagined they needed one another. I longed for a new kind of friendship, based not on competition but rather on supportive community. We all had such busy lives—some married, some traveling, some still employed—that it was hard to find time to even meet for coffee. A larger gathering seemed more practical. We all needed to eat, didn’t we?
Do you recall that delightful old folk tale called Stone Soup? It’s the story of a group of hungry strangers combining bits of food in order to make a soup that became a communal meal in the end. Thanks to Captain Kangaroo, I’d long ago fallen in love with the moral of the story—sharing. I decided to launch my own version: I’d make a simple soup, keep it casual, and because I can squeeze 12 chairs around my table, we began with a dozen women. I sent out the invitations and imposed only two conditions—come prepared to laugh and no malicious gossip allowed.
Four years later, and many soup dinners since, dozens of us have forged new friendships while breaking bread, sipping soup and raising our glasses to a more compassionate way of relating. We’ve invited daughters and other younger women who expressed interest. One evening, a new guest to the group thanked me for including her, in what she referred to as “my wonderful group of Amazon women.” Initially taken aback by that label, I soon realized what a compliment it was. We are indeed a tribe of peaceful warrior women—brave and resilient, but more importantly, strong allies in a sometimes menacing world.
— Grace Cooper
Grace Cooper is a retired nurse anesthetist and aspiring writer. Most days she can be spotted out and about Pittsburgh on her beloved bicycle, which she named Hippolyta after the mythological queen of the Amazons.
Mom’s Old Fashioned Split Pea Soup
This is still my all-time favorite soup, made a bit healthier by using organic chicken bone broth and organic split peas. The smoked ham hock imparts a lot of flavor, but also salt—wait until the soup is finished before adding more!
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 3 carrots, finely chopped
- 3 celery stalks, finely chopped
- 1 pound smoked ham hock
- 1 pound split green peas, rinsed and drained
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots and celery. Stir to coat the vegetables and cook for 5 minutes until soft.
- Add the whole ham hock, split peas and chicken stock. Decrease the heat to low and simmer for about an hour or until the peas are soft and the ham hock tender.
- Using an immersion blender, puree about two-thirds of the soup until somewhat smooth. Add the ham pieces to the soup and cook over low heat until the soup has thickened slightly, 5-8 minutes. Season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper. Serve hot.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Number of servings : 6