Celebrating menopause breaks the silences of a lifetime and forges a future of openness and sharing.
Phyllis recalls: As the moon hovered on the edge of Hanukkah, 36--a magical number--of my women friends assembled to celebrate not only the Festival of Light, not only my 50th birthday, but also my menopause. Thirty-six women joined together to end an age-old silence. We had gathered not only to speak about menopause but also to celebrate it. Just as my journey beyond menstruation was still unknown to me, so this ceremony I had just created was a journey still unknown to them.
Ending the Silence About Our Inner Selves
Why did I think it was so important to end the silence about menopause? Three months before my 13th birthday, I "got the curse" and "became a woman," to use two common euphemisms about menstruation. My mother whispered the news to her friend Selma and to Mrs. Goldstein who lived next door, and it was thus that I learned about "women's things"--and about whispering. In my seventh-grade classrooms, other girls/women were, like me, embarrassed to talk about the changes that had, or had not yet, happened to them. Nothing could have been more on our minds and less on our lips.
Silence is profound. When we cannot speak about what is happening in our bodies, in our hearts, and in our souls, we draw some reasonable but damaging conclusions. We learn that what is public is limited to the world of our minds and, more likely, to the most superficial layers of our minds. We then begin making the distinction between the inner, consuming conversations we have alone or with an intimate few, and the outer disconnected ones we have with others. The disconnections are not only from others but also from ourselves: We lose the at-one-ment we could feel when we perceive ourselves whole and holy in relation to others.
For much of my adult life, I have wanted to speak about the unspeakable. I have longed to move the body and the emotions and the spirit out of the shadows, where they appear hidden, trivial, shameful, even dirty, into the sunlight, where they are real, important, central, and acceptable. For me, the process of making an inner experience public helps me to see my experience as normal, to speak my experience with passion and sureness, and to feel myself integrated within and without.
A Menopause Seder
In my 49th year, as I began to experience the ending of my menstruations, I decided to break through the silence hovering over this passage, with two circles of friends: women, ranging in age from 21 to 58, gathered from all over the country and from various parts of my life, and the women and men of the P'nai Or Havura and other members of the extraordinary Jewish Renewal neighborhood of Mount Airy in Philadelphia.