Knowing that when I finally move to Hawaiʻi I will be seventy, on my various trips there I have watched “old people”, perhaps trying to get a glimpse of myself at that age. It’s funny how you can read a person’s state of mind by how they carry themselves! Some, as they have gotten older have also become more cautious, and you can see it in the tentative manner in which they make their way. Some sit on the park bench slumped over, a living embodiment of hopelessness. As I watched them, trying to find my seventy-year-old self in their lives, the thought came to me that we can begin to put restrictions on ourselves, reducing our happiness in being alive almost as if all that we are doing is waiting for the next accident! This can be as true mentally as physically, and this mindset is certainly not restricted to old age.
One morning while sitting in the lobby of Dan’s building a little old Auntie in a colorful muʻumuʻu got off of the elevator. Her eyes just sparked with a mischievous life-fulness and when she saw me sitting there she boldly proclaimed, “I’m 95! How old are you?” “Sixty-one,” I responded, and she asked, “Are you waiting for someone?” I had a momentary wild thought that she was going to ask me out on a date! Dan says everyone in the building calls this colorful, lively woman “Grandma Johnson.” I told her I was waiting for Dan and we were going to hike up Diamond Head. She then said, “Oh, I used to do that every year until two years ago.”
Two years ago?! That means that until she was 93 she had a yearly hike 732 feet up Diamond Head! I then watched as she put her canvas bag on the floor of the lobby, went outside, and walked down the block a few buildings, turned, came past the lobby, walked a few buildings in that direction, reversed, etc. At first I thought that she must be lost or disoriented but slowly it dawned on me that she was getting her daily walking exercise! At 95 Diamond Head was no longer possible for her but the sidewalk in front of her building was, so that was what she used!
Clearly how you look at something influences the opportunities you do or don’t see! Grandma doesn’t seem to look at aging as diminishment but rather as an opportunity to find new ways of being alive! I am grateful to have met Grandma, to have spent those ten minutes with her, because in her I was finally able to see my 70-year-old Hawaiian self !!