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Such is the perspective of Leah Friedman, octogenarian author of this slim book of essays that is available on Amazon; its sepia photo of a framed drying bulb, one taken by her, portends to the richness found on each page.

Through the lens of seasoned wisdom, she counters the strictures of ageism with anecdotes from her kaleidoscopic life as an academic, wife, mother, widow, grand- and great-grandmother, photographer, author, lecturer, friend. Beneath them, stirs a vibrant and inquisitive spirit, because of which her aging readers readily identify with her. In unvarnished words she lays out the terrain of her sixties, seventies, and eighties, each with their tasks and challenges, not without losses and unexpected surprises. Referencing poets, psychologists, and theologians nuances her impressions within a larger frame.

An adept with life-long change, she can now say, “On one level I am awaiting my demise, while at a deeper level I am continually in the process of discovering who I really am.”

 

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A recent luncheon at the St. Louis Women’s Exchange, in its seventh location since its 1883 beginnings, piqued my curiosity. The food was unparalleled, but the hand-stitched children’s clothes, especially the red cherry dress—the Exchange’s signature piece for over fifty years—gave me pause. My great niece wore this dress in 2014.

 

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But of more interest than the dress was learning about the history of this movement as researched by Kathleen Waters Sander in The Business of Charity: the History of the Women’s Exchange Movement, 1832 -1900, (1998). Her extensive research, corroborated by copious footnotes, takes the pulse of philanthropic nineteenth-century women, chafing at societal constraints and forming hundreds of social clubs; its networks spawned numerous volunteer endeavors. One of these took place in Philadelphia.

In 1832 Elizabeth Stoot and her sixteen wealthy associates addressed the plight of the “decayed gentlewomen”—women like themselves, but reduced to poverty because of their husbands’ falling on hard times. Their hand-stitched goods, offered on consignment to the Registry as it was then called, afforded them financial breathing space. What appeared to be a charitable enterprise turned out to be a women-run business. And after the Civil War this model was established in over seventy cities and opened to all seamstresses from whatever background.

Next week, we will review the 1883 founding of the Women’s Exchange in St. Louis, the work of Ariadne Lawnin (1840 – 1915).

 

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In August 1993 a team of Syrian and Japanese archeologists excavated the almost full skeletal remains of a two-year-old child, found in the Dederiyeh Cave, 400 miles north of Damascus. She lived during the Middle Paleolithic era, 200,000 to 40,000 B.C. We do not know the cause of her death, nor her name, but her burial evidences the care of someone, perhaps her parents.

Last week an official scooped up the remains of a two-year old Syrian boy, found face down on the sands near Bodrum, Turkey. His red shirt, blue shorts, and tiny shoes with Velcro straps evidenced his Mother’s care. We do know his name, as does the global community—Aylan Kurdi—and the circumstances that ended his short life.

The stories of these toddlers witness their innocence and plunge us into silence.

We also grieve other Syrian children, down through the ages, caught upon swords of monstrous conquerors ravaging their land and strewing it with temples, palaces, and fortresses.

But we also honor Syrian children who transmuted suffering and hardship and later authored mystical works that illumined Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Their vision still enriches us. Of special interest are the Didache (Greek for teachings), the secret gospel of Thomas, and the gospel of John, all composed during the first century A.D.

Certainly today’s mayhem cries out for fresh mystics to assuage our fears and enlarge our worlds with peace that “the world cannot give.”

 

 

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Available on Amazon

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