'Iokepa and I have mothers on each coast of the American continent. They were both born in 1912. You do the math. (My mother still lies about her age--and she can easily get away with it.) We've called them the bookends: Tiny women who've held their own in this lifetime--forces to be reckoned with; with full lives and distinct opinions, who've cared for and about other than themselves all of their adult days.
But these women are suddenly showing their age--in different ways, and to differing degrees. And those changes are coinciding with 'Iokepa and my nine months on the continent--so we have been blessed to be with them, to support them, to comfort ourselves around our aging pillars of strength.
Years ago, a woman friend warned me to never marry a man who did not love his mother. She was right--and I've done very well in that regard. 'Iokepa is a devoted son. It is. I concur, the makings of a devoted husband.
As we've crossed and recrossed the continental United States in these seven months (21,000 miles added so far to our Camry's odometer), I find myself calling the Return Voyage journey, "The Aging Tour." Aging seems to be the recurring theme. One might argue that it is the only recurring theme.
However, we are that age: Siblings and friends are retiring, for goodness sake--each loudly proclaiming that he or she hates that word, and they have a point. Not a one of them is retiring; these are active, excited, bright, compassionate people moving into their next life, the next plan of action.
It has nothing to do with "not doing," and everything to do with doing something new--often, it is a long postponed, something new. It's been pretty inspiring to witness--and rather humbling too.
All of it: The mothers succumbing to the physical challenges, but insisting they still have something to say--and say it they will. The folks, our age, emerging from the rigors of enforced career, or someone else's schedule--and seizing that moment with a gusto.
Anyway I'm not wasting my breath writing a sentimental essay about the glories of aging. I am, instead, highlighting the wisdom within the aboriginal Hawaiian culture that Return Voyage celebrates: Half a life learning at the knee of the kupuna (elder); half a life being that kupuna.
Why are we modern folk so reticent to seize and broadcast that which is rightfully ours? By virtue of the fact that we have lived half a lifetime, we have something to say--something to give. Who hoards the goods? And who turns down a freely given gift? Not in the ancient cultures.
But in this one we're afraid to claim our goods, and stingy to offer our good-works. On the other side, we balk (frozen in a phony idealization of youth, and the consequent fear of death) at the gift offered up--at the life well-lived.
In my ancient culture there is a word for that. It's arorskavorfin; that's Yiddish, for wasteful.