If we’re lucky, life introduces us to people who light us up inside when we see them, and who love us, just as we are. Luckier still are those who get the rare opportunity to spend unadulterated time with such friends in beautiful places.

On the face of it, this writing is a light and happy musing about gratitude for having these kinds of connections and the opportunities to enjoy them. But there is a darker, quieter reality on the flipside, and it’s that reality that ultimately made us – The Bag Ladies – have a special bond. 

The only criterion for membership, besides having a long friendship with our founder, is having faced the fear of life circumstances becoming so unmanageable that we might end up on the streets.  Implicit in that fear was the absence of significant family money to fall back on, which has been largely true, not 100% true, but certainly truer when we were younger. 

This is not a support group, per se. But the vulnerability and honesty, combined with sunshine, late nights, wine and good coffee (for the pajama talk that stretches late into the morning) create a supportive space where tears are as welcomed as a bawdy joke. It is a no-judgment zone. If women have a willingness to share stories, learn from each other, opportunities abound for compassion in this circle.  When we hear of the struggles of others, it morphed into deep friendships.  Nobody has any secrets. We are not competitive with one another, and nobody judges.

We are foodies, world travelers, lovers of beauty and hearty laughers. The group works because we share the same values of tolerance, open mindedness, compassion for others, generosity of spirit, creativity, insatiable intellectual curiosity and a special appreciation political satire and comedic reframing of life’s awkward and chafing moments.

For example, one bag lady summarized a “worst date” experience this way:  “First we had sex. Then, he broke up with me. Then, he stole my juicer.” Yes. YES! She woke up in the morning and it was gone. It wasn’t the indignity of the abrupt breakup that stayed with her, but the fact that he had absconded with the juicer, and she had to fight with him to get it back. (She was victorious.)

Then there was the night we debated the value of wearing thong underwear. On the one hand, the believers contented, they were *a must* to alleviate VPL (visible panty lines); but the most dubious among us said she’d prefer not “to be flossed.” This topic always gets revisited whenever we reconvene, along with the benefits (and increasing risks) of going commando, especially because we now range in age from 50 to 64.

We have almost no duplication in careers, although some commonalities.  We come from media, politics, foreign affairs, public policy, law, medicine, and academics backgrounds. Everyone has advanced degrees and more importantly, cares deeply about public and community service.  We love dogs, children, travel, adventure and theater; one of us loves flying on a trapeze. Our collective experiences include being embedded with the Marines in Afghanistan; a motorcycle accident in the Czech Republic; a solo cross-country motorcycle trip; and managing high-level political campaigns.  All of us are survivors.

Each of us has survived the ache of grief and the effects of trauma, including the death of parents; sudden and violent death of a beloved child; skin cancer; near-fatal car wrecks; dog bites to the face; agonizing infertility; parents who are homeless; divorce; major surgeries and, in one case, life after death (literally).  No wonder laughing is so important to us.

The humbling nature of life becomes a comfort around these ladies. We commiserate about the aging process, accepting the fact that aging is inevitable., sometimes bewildering, and, when shared, can be hilarious and healing.  “Peeing on myself just pisses me off when I’m dealing with it alone, but when I’m with the Bag Ladies, I’m not alone with the shame of it and it’s somehow even funny.”

We’ve traveled to Italy, Santa Fe, New York and Nantucket together.  They all are places of beauty and spiritual healing, visually rich. All involve good food and wine, open invitation to sleep late and take naps.  Nothing is mandatory.  Conversations develop organically.  They are layered and meander.  Laughter, tears, sex, politics, usually all of the above.

The men in our lives tend to be curious about the Bag Ladies and are entranced by our conversation. Those who have seen us in action enjoy the lightheartedness and intellectual stimulation and want to linger with us. We think they secretly wish they had something similar in their lives.

Of course, we can’t get together as a group as often as we’d like. Real life means that miles, finances, work and family obligations inevitably get in the way of regular in-person reunions. But the recent visit once again reminded us of the power of this sisterhood:  each of us, in our own ways, arrived with edges…rough edges that get more calloused if one spends too much time alone or in pain about family members in crisis, health crises, careers in seeming freefall, the current state of affairs in our country. But time together with our sisters by choice felt like the miracle of water to a rock…the rock relents and lets itself be washed over, and over time, the edges soften. In the presence of our sisters, love smoothed our edges, leaving us as glistening as a sea water washed stone.

The authors in our series of Sisters by Choice remain anonymous, unless they decide to identify themselves. These images of smooth stones, Italy, Nantucket, and Santa Fe capture the essence of the places we’ve traveled together and reveal how our relationships have smoothed out the sharp edges of our life.

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