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reframing aging - focus on sue bender

Story by Cynthia Overbeck Bix


Age 85

Current interests: Writer

Career: Author, ceramics artist, family therapist


“Leave room for the unexpected.”


Sue’s gentle nature and kindness shine out brightly through her dark, intense eyes. As she speaks, she offers, one by one, nuggets of wisdom gleaned during years spent seeking answers to life’s deepest conundrums. Her hands, slim and graceful, have written three memorable books and formed countless objects of clay, each with its own quirky charm.


On creating

When I write, I scribble on hundreds of little scraps of paper. Then I sit on the floor or at a table, and I just move the patches around. Sometimes I can see something—a pattern or a theme. 


I love the idea of a life of patches. Patches are very human. And we need to be respectful of our patches—and to accept not having an answer. It’s important to get out of the way and let some things come into ourselves.


When I have space that allows me to think and create, I call it having “eagle vision.” With eagle vision, you see how parts can make a whole.


As I was writing my third book, Stretching Lessons: The Daring that Starts from Within, I was struggling to write an ending.  And suddenly, the words came: “Miracles come after a lot of hard work.”


On imperfection

When I made ceramics, I just shaped the pieces with my hands. After I started to have shows of my work, I tried using a wheel, but it was so uninteresting. I didn’t want the pieces to be perfect. I’d rather that things are lumpy and bumpy. I’m a poster child for the imperfect!


On finding the next thing

It’s not very easy for me to trust the voice that doesn’t make sense. I think that’s what my journey is about. Writing my book Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish came about because I walked into a shop and saw some patchwork quilts. My heart started pounding. I asked the owner, “Who made those?” and he said, “The Amish.”


Not long after that, a voice inside me said, “Go and live with the Amish.” But I didn't just say—“Hot dog!”  I said, “Lunatic! What are you doing?” Still, in the end, that’s what I did.


Trusting that voice that doesn’t seem to make sense is my ongoing challenge: Doubt if you must, but persist. It’s the persisting that matters. Doing creative work is always a dance between faith and doubt, and then persisting.


On growing older

As part of preparing to downsize our living situation, my husband Richard and I have had to look through our things.  It’s a sort of a sweet time—looking through things. It’s fine if you have someone to give things to. But the things that have meaning—I think I have to trust that those things are inside me.


I’ve learned that if you get out of the way, there’s breathing space for the unexpected, and something comes through. In these recent years, that’s been a big theme for me—leave room for the unexpected.


There aren’t as many have-to’s as you get older!


On Ashby Village

I love Ashby Village; my husband Richard and I are both members. I'm so grateful to the people of the Village—it’s such a generous program!


On looking forward

If I would give people a message, it’s this: Be kind to yourself, and have a heart. Have compassion.  It takes courage to know who you are and what you want.                           

Sue Bender today
Sue Bender today

Younger Sue Bender
A younger Sue Bender