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!
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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 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
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