Mary Pipher is the author of the new memoir A Life in Light: Meditations on Impermanence. Her other books include the classic Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. A psychologist, she lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Q: What inspired you to write A Life in Light?
A: I was inspired by my own loneliness and despair during the pandemic. I wanted to remind myself of my own resilience over the years and I hoped that I could help readers find the light in a dark time.
Q: In the book’s introduction, you write, “Indeed, my first memory is of light dancing in the leaves of a tall tree in my grandmother's front yard in Sparta, Missouri.” What impact did those early images have, and has your relationship with light changed over the years?
A: I’ve always been fascinated by light. My memory is encoded in light and my moods are deeply affected by light. Light has always been beautiful and interesting to me. I live in Nebraska where we say that the sky is our Rocky Mountains. We have a constantly changing skyscape and long views.
Writing A Life in Light enhanced my understanding of the role of light in my life. The light I am enchanted by is both literal and metaphorical.
Q: The writer Lori Gottlieb said of you and the book, “She has given us all essential lessons on how to balance despair with a sense of wonder and inspires us to lead more light-filled lives.” What do you think of that description, particularly given the difficulties facing the world today?
A: Given the darkness in the world, it becomes even more important that we seek the light. That light can be found everywhere—in the natural world, in loving relationships, in beauty and music, art and literature.
No matter our circumstances, happiness is a choice and a set of skills. Most days, with intention and attention, we can build a good day.
Q: The book's subtitle is “Meditations on Impermanence.” How did you choose that phrase, and what does it signify for you?
A: I have been a Buddhist since 2002 and the essence of Buddhism is that everything changes constantly. The pandemic changed our world in so many ways. We all surrendered to uncertainty.
We still cannot predict our future. One of the great skills of life is accepting impermanence and living fully in the present moment. We know we have this present moment. With focus, we can make it peaceful and beautiful.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am working on resettlement of Afghan families in our community and also on environmental issues in my state. I am taking a break from writing until I have something to contribute to the world.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I am grateful that I have had a life of writing. I hope my book helps readers find the light in their own lives.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Mary Pipher.