As you may know, my day job - some might say, my REAL job, the one that actually provides me with a steady paycheck and fringe benefits - is with the county. For over 15 years, I've worked for Kaunoa Senior Services, a division of the Department of Housing and Human Concerns.
My late husband, a fellow broadcaster and '60s rebel at heart, had mixed feelings about my day job. He'd tease me about being a pencil-pushing, taxpayer-supported bureaucrat, and he would admonish me to never forget that my real job, my calling, was on stage and on air. I could never convince him that working at Kaunoa sharpened my communication skills and sweetened my creative juices; that sometimes it was just as exciting as doing live radio, as fulfilling as pulling off a perfect comedy set.
But I think what really bothered him about my job was that it was a constant reminder of his age. When I was hired, he was already old enough to qualify for some of Kaunoa's programs, but he had an outdated view of senior citizenship and it certainly didn't include him as a member. He thought being over 60 meant your life was pretty much over, and he thought of Father Time as his greatest enemy.
Being 17 years his junior, I had a different perspective. Aging was something my husband was doing, not me. Besides, the more time I spent with seniors, the less I feared becoming one. One of the first things I learned at Kaunoa was that age really is a state of mind. I know people in their 80s who are healthier and more active than folks half their age. And at Kaunoa, we offer many opportunities for seniors to continue learning and thriving. We have a surprising variety of Leisure Program classes and activities, for people 55 and better, as we say. I've been looking forward to the day when I could be a participant as well as a staffer.
Well, that day is rapidly approaching, and I have to admit, my enthusiasm is waning. Fifty-five looked a lot better from a distance. Now that it's only a few months away, I'm not sure I'm ready for it. I felt the same on my 45th birthday. That was the year I realized someone had flipped the world around and I was now on the other side of the generation gap. For most of my life, I'd been the youngest in my peer group, from school to work to my social life. It was sobering to realize that now, I was more often the oldest one in the room. Overnight, I went from being The Kid to The Mommy at the radio station, from young mother to Grandma at home. I've adjusted, of course, and I do still believe you're only as old as you feel . . . but some days, I feel old.
Fortunately, I have my Kaunoa job to remind me that "55 and better" really is better. It's certainly better now than it used to be. In 1900, the average life expectancy was 47. Today, in Hawaii, it's 81. So if you're 55, you're still looking at another 25 years or so. No sense spending all that time feeling old. We've got lots of alternatives. From art appreciation to Zumba, tap dancing to tai chi, we'll keep you too busy to feel old.
This Saturday, regardless of how old you are or how old you feel, we invite you to Experience Kaunoa! at the Maui Mall. Our Congregate Dining Program offers nutritious meals and enriching activities at more than a dozen sites around the island, Meals on Wheels and Assisted Transportation services are available for homebound seniors, volunteer opportunities abound through our RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) office. All of these programs and services, along with leisure activities at both our senior centers (Spreckelsville and West Maui), will be showcased from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on stage and throughout the mall.
And since it is Memorial Day weekend, we will open the event with a tribute to our armed forces and our veterans, particularly the nisei recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. We'll also be stringing hundreds of lei for Monday's ceremony at the Makawao Veterans Cemetery, and you're welcome to join in, whether you're an experienced leimaker or not. There's no need to bring any materials, although we will gladly receive donations of flowers or greenery Saturday morning.
I'll be there as emcee and I hope to see you there as well. I think you'll be impressed by the many facets of Kaunoa and inspired by its many faces. And I think you just might agree that, often, older IS better!
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose Sharing Mana'o column appears every Wednesday. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.