Story of the Month
July-August 2023: What is possible in this moment?
Our Story this month invites you to imagine your future. Effie Brown, the last of five children born on a small farm in the Yakima Valley, is approaching her 90th birthday ~ with the vitality and enthusiasm she has learned and chosen throughout her life. She is a respected and beloved Elder, eager to share what she has learned during her life ~ ~ and just as eager to learn from you, or me.
Two qualities guide me, she tells us: “Curiosity and Gratitude.”
To the Reader:
How old are you now? Imagine you are approaching 90.
Effie has embodied these two qualities – intentionally nurturing them as she has experienced the joys and challenges life presents.
Her first husband, Glenn, died in a mountain climbing accident on a camping trip with their neighbors. “It was so abrupt; there was no time for ‘goodbyes,’ and there were so many deaths that year. My father died, and my father-in-law. Then Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King.”
“As I carried on without Glenn, I discovered I was stronger than I had realized. I had loved being a ‘stay-at-home’ Mom with our two sons, Kent and Jeffrey. However, with Glenn gone I had to begin a new life. I started working with staff and students at the Ecumenical Campus Ministry Center at Central Washington University.“
“My kids loved the students and I met a new love who was one of the ministerial staff. “
“Mark Brown and I married when I was 40 and moved to Seattle. We bought a small grocery store where the kids enjoyed working with Mark. I worked as the Program Director at the United Church of Christ where Mark was the Marriage Minister.”
“As I approached my 50th birthday, my dear mother died. She was the strong anchor in my life and taught me the power of love for God and love and compassion for one another.“
“On my 50th birthday, wearing my favorite black dress, I danced with my friends and celebrated beginning the second half of my life.”
“Through study with the Chinook Learning Center, a visit to the Findhorn Foundation and the island of Iona in Scotland, I connected with women’s spirituality and Earth as a living being. And during my 50s I began my search for balance between doing and being. I also covenanted with my chosen sisters who continue to meet monthly to share our spiritual journeys and support one another through the changing seasons of our lives.“
“In 1991 Mark and I moved to California as Co-owners of the Shenoa Retreat and Learning Center. I served as Office manager, Personnel Director and Elderhostel Coordinator and Mark as Interim Director and teacher.”
“We experienced many ‘life lessons’ here; some were about living in community, and some came through my treatment for breast cancer.”
“We ultimately sold the Retreat Center and moved to Whidbey Island, where I healed and we found our spiritual community with the Unitarian Universalist of Whidbey Island.“
“Mark died in 2014 and once again I sought new meaning in my life through my faith and through connection with others.”
Effie acknowledges that she was initially resistant to becoming an Elder. Then, with her usual curiosity and gratitude she realized how deeply she appreciated the diversity of experiences life had brought her. She then set out to embrace becoming an Elder, and to live these later years of her life to the best of her ability.
“I discovered that many people my age simply accept physical or mental challenges with an attitude of ‘That’s just the way it is.’ They don’t realize that they have a choice. When I come to a choice point, and neither the path to the left nor the path to the right are desirable, I start exploring what MIGHT be possible: “What is possible in this moment?”
“We are continually confronted with change in our lives and often we see these challenges in a black and white, either/or way. Effie says she gravitates to the gray, “because the gray is filled with possibilities.”
When COVID required a “stay-at-home” policy, Effie’s church began to explore other options for staying connected and continuing to worship together. She was quick to respond to a call to learn how to use technology to support the on-going church services and group meetings. Acting on her curiosity, she had the opportunity to increase her technical skills and to stay active with the people and programs that nurture her. “It was a steep learning curve,” she tells us, “but it certainly was worth it.”
Effie is currently a member of the worship leadership group in her church and is leading a women’s group on The Inner Work of Aging. She remains active, not only with her family and her church, but also with her Chosen Sisters, with Hospice and Threshold Singers, who sing for those who are ill and dying.
Some of Effie’s Threshold song sisters.
Her current challenge is living with chronic pain. “I don’t want sympathy,” she says, “and I don’t want to simply endure it, so I’m exploring the gray area of possibilities, ‘Can I experience pain as a friendly teacher and my cane as a trusty helper?
Living with this motto, “What is possible in this moment?” Effie intends to continue to live with gratitude and to be a blessing to whomever and whatever is in front of her at a given moment.