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Cynthia Black

A Divine Celebration 
by Cynthia Black

Before my 50th birthday earlier this year, I struggled with the pressure of finding the perfect way to mark this important milestone. What to do? Travel to one of my dream destinations with my husband? Go swimming with wild dolphins? Ideas swirled through my mind, and my sister kept urging me to plan something momentous. It just wasn’t coming to me, not to mention my pocketbook wasn’t in shape for a dream trip!

Midlife Clarity by Cynthia Black

Kate, a former employee who now specializes in designing rituals, had offered to help me with some ideas for my "coming of age" celebration. When the big day was just one month away and I was still unable to commit to any plans, I decided to take her up on her offer. We met for lunch, and as we began to discuss my birthday, I was embarrassed to admit that I had planned nothing.

Ever kind and comforting, Kate asked me some questions and shared some things that she had done for her own celebration a year before. When she reminded me, "You know, you are 50 for a whole year, not just that one day," the intense pressure that I had been feeling was relieved, and suddenly I could let thoughts come more freely. I remembered as a nine or ten year-old how I would run around our beach house in the nude on a dare. Kate said "Why not do that on your birthday?"

Eventually, Kate’s questions helped me realize that for me the significance of this occasion was what it symbolized about my own womanhood. Once I understood that, I knew I wanted to celebrate the spiritual bond I feel with my closest women friends. This wasn’t to be an instance where polite social obligation dictated the guest list; rather, I contacted only those friends—some old, some new—with whom I feel a deeper kinship. To my delight, all but a few could make it, even with the short notice.

As I reflected further on how I wanted to spend this evening with my friends, I turned to the experiences of other women for inspiration. I’m a publisher of books that appeal to women on a spiritual path and the importance of women connecting to each other through the sharing of stories has been something dear to my heart for many years. I have edited two books of women’s writing about midlife, Our Turn, Our Time and Midlife Clarity. These books are filled with wonderful essays about the challenges and triumphs of this time that I was entering. I reread them to see what ideas would resonate with me as I designed my own celebration.

Our Turn, Our Time by Cynthia Black

As I once again felt my sisterhood with the women in these stories, I knew the path I had chosen—to publish books—would make a difference in women’s lives as it had in my own. One of these, Path of the Pearl: Discover Your Treasures Within, is written by Mary Olsen Kelly, a wonderful woman with whom I shared an easy friendship—almost from the moment we began working together. In her book, Mary uses the oyster as a metaphor for life, showing how it takes a grain of sand, and turns it into a thing of beauty. With the same criteria used by pearl merchants to grade pearl quality—shape, size, color, luster, orient, and perfection—women are called to examine their own quality of life, giving thanks for blessings, giving credit to themselves for challenges met, and looking ahead at changes that may still be made. I’m grateful that this book came to us so we could help it find its way into the hands of so many women.

Path of the Pearl by Mary Olsen Kelly

Frustration, at not knowing what to do with my birthday, was being transformed into a world of possibilities.

I am also excited about another project that has recently come to us, called THIS DAY: Diaries from One Day in the Life of American Women that will be in stores next fall (www.thisdayinthelife.com). The authors recruited an astounding diversity of women—over 500 participants—across America and from all walks of life to create a "day diary" on a single pre-selected day this fall. These day diarists ranged from the current Miss America to the President of NOW, and a diversity of lifestyles in between. Within these day diaries are the kind of wonderful details that evoke each woman’s unique perspective, but which also speak to who we are as women and Americans. The power of this idea has continued to resonate with me since the moment I first heard it.

"In addition to sharing their day, many contributors to the book added postscripts about the day diary experience. One participant wrote, ‘What an amazing way to connect the energy of so many women with my own energy and experiences.’"

The issues raised by these writers, and the very nature of this book itself, reveal the extraordinary in the ordinary—something I always strive to keep conscious of. The entries evoke both our uniqueness and our commonalties, and they allow me to feel, in an immediate and intimate way, the essence of a community of women that I know is always out there.

As I tried to find a way to look at the larger picture of my own life for my birthday celebration, I found a deep sense of satisfaction in the knowledge that I will enter my 50th year already having made many positive contributions to issues I care about. It has been a privilege to publish works such as these, and while my celebration would indeed be something that was truly mine, I could see it would, in a sense, belong to this larger collective of feminine experience of which I have been part.

Finally the special day arrived. I had decided to hold the party at my own home, which sits on a twelve-acre farm 20 miles out of the city. It was a warm summer day and we enjoyed a lovely lunch of crab salad in avocado, gazpacho soup, and sangria on my patio. We then moved on to some pampering by two of my friends, one a masseuse and one a pedicurist, who were kind enough to come and give us all massages and pedicures.

Inspired by the recent movie "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," I asked my friends to bring a plain hat that could be decorated for a ceremony later in the evening. We alternated massages and pedicures with hat-making. The hats turned out to be the most fun and joyful process of the day. Everyone was so creative and innovative with her design. Each hat really reflected its creator. I ended up with a hat with pink boa feathers and a bird amongst other decorations.

Cynthia's Birthday Celebration

My mother had sent me a lei of my favorite sweet-smelling ginger flowers. My only sister, unable to be there in person, sent her own ritual objects from Hawaii so I could still feel her presence despite her physical absence. Even though most of these women had never met before, they connected like sisters and the atmosphere was both familiar and festive from the outset.

My husband, Richard, and the husband of one of my friends volunteered to cook and serve the celebratory dinner for us. We loved being pampered by two gracious men. They acted as if they were the maitre d' and chef and even got into a mock fight for our entertainment.

We toasted each other with Lemon Drop and Cosmopolitan cocktails and moved onto dinner. An actual menu had been elegantly typed up on stationary. Steak and salmon and a wonderful Caesar salad comprised our meal. Bouquets of roses and orchids decorated and scented every inch of the house, sent by various loved ones. I felt surrounded by these expressions of love and acknowledgment.

After the beautiful marzipan cake was served with champagne, my friends spontaneously started sharing with the group some of the secrets dear to their hearts. There were many tears and laughter and more bonding of a special kind.

Finally, we donned our "divine" hats and moved from the warm comfort of the dining room to the cool evening air on the patio where the men had prepared a fire in a fire pit to keep us warm. They departed and wished us well.

Spiritual Writing by Deborah Levine Herman, Cynthia Black

I had asked the women to bring a candle and a single bead with them. As each woman gave me her bead, I strung them together to make a necklace that bound all the energy of that night together. Each candle was representative of a specific seven-year cycle in my life. This was one of Kate’s suggestions. She had pointed out that we don’t really know what its like to be 50 until we know what its like to be 49.

With the fire pit to our side, we made a circle around the table with the candles. We started with the candle symbolizing my first through seventh years. I shared my memories of that time in my life and then thought about the wonderful things that I wanted to keep from that period of my life and the other things that I wanted to release. I then lit the candle to signify that completion. I did this with each seven-year period leading up to year 49.

The last candle represented age 50. I thought about what I wanted the next year to hold and what my intentions were for it. I lit that last candle and then looked at all eight candles that had been lit over the last hour. They created a glow that was effervescent and my friends faces shone brightly in their light. It was a magical moment.

Everyone who came that August evening felt loved and accepted and a part of a memorable occasion. It couldn’t have been a more meaningful celebration if I had chosen to swim with the dolphins—or to have everyone run around in the nude as I had when I was a child! The day was such a success that some of my friends even asked me to design a celebration for them. But the year is young and I still have seven months to celebrate! Who knows what else might be in store?

Copyright © 2002 Cynthia Black.  All Rights Reserved.

Cynthia Black
Cynthia Black is the President and Editor-in-Chief of Beyond Words Publishing, an industry leader in publishing spiritual books that inform and inspire. Prominent authors include Dr. John Gray. A frequent speaker, Black also edited two women’s anthologies Our Turn, Our Time and Midlife Clarity, and co-authored Spiritual Writing. She lives near Portland, Oregon.




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