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Courting longevity in our Eden

January 23, 2017 GMT

There are some standout moments in our lives that bring the finite aspect of our human condition into full focus. A zoom-in like this can make each one of us who experiences such a moment fully aware of how fleeting life may be and, therefore, “how (very) sweet it is.” If it’s not the first time for such realization, it’s a strong reoccurrence.

One of these occurred for us recently, as we signed and watched while our agent affixed her notarial seal upon our “Last Will and Testament” documents, redone along with our health directives (because of some new rules), and other planning. One day, for sure, we’ll no longer wake to the call of our rooster, the doves cooing in the noni tree, the sun coming over Nounou Mountain to warm the dewy pasture grass, cause the hibiscus blossoms to unfurl, regenerate the land and its people. Again the phrase from the ’70s song plays in my head, “how sweet it is …” No — or few — regrets as the celebration of life, for now, continues. Along with the challenges.

It’s been said that each of our lives is but an endless unfolding. Also, that we are never too old for new beginnings.

When I first arrived to make this island my home, I immediately noticed how many healthy older citizens I saw walking and working and having fun around Lihue Town. I assumed that the fresh air, sunshine, outdoor lifestyles and hard physical work (given that these were still plantation times), were responsible. After I learned to play golf, my respect for energetic seniors was underlined. I met many who were walking nine or 18 holes while carrying their clubs. It seemed that this particular exercise, often undertaken after a day’s work, was enlivening for many citizens of all ages, providing the much-needed transition between job and home duties before rest.

On the Wailua Golf Course, our “home” course, many dedicated golfers are seniors, fortunate to have an affordable fee made more affordable the older one gets, with a “super senior” rate (not to mention the “senior tees”). Beside the first women’s tee, there exists a memorial plaque dedicated to a golfer who wielded her clubs in regular play past the ripe age of 100 years. Now there’s a Kauai legend — Mrs. Anna Sloggett — who not only courted, but won the good-fortune prize of healthy longevity.

Likewise, my own Harris uncles, who grew up in India and Burma before coming to America just before the 1920s to attend college and settle. They were gymnasts and sports enthusiasts in their younger years; they consumed good Indian curries all their lives with all the good spice ingredients that are known to lower blood pressure, cleanse various tracts and provide antioxidants. As educators, they stayed connected with youth, lived healthy lifestyles and laughed often. Glen lived to 107; Ramsay, his younger brother, to 105.

My husband’s maternal Uncle Takeo showed us his garage “gym” on a visit we enjoyed with him in California when he was in his mid-90s. He demonstrated his daily workout plan, which took about 45 minutes. I’ve been grateful because this rubbed off on someone dear to me who follows a similar regimen. As it is, we celebrate the life of Uncle Tak, who made it to 100 healthily, slightly outliving his older sister, my husband’s venerable mother.

Each of us, our good doctor reminds us, possesses different DNA tempered by life choices we make along the way. Each of us must choose her/his own path and regimen to maintain best energy. For myself, an ideal mantra might be: to attend to all facets of chores and choices with good spirit; gardening; balancing work with play; practicing moderation in all things; laughing (a lot) and loving; and taking a half-hour (at least) walk daily. And knowing, with a wink, that there’s no guarantee!

That’s where I think gratitude comes into play.

Awhile ago, an interesting piece flew into our in-boxes about a centenarian who was interviewed on his 115th birthday and asked his secrets to a long and healthy life. I filed the piece so I can refer to it, reminding myself of this amazing fellow. His interviewer, Emina Bajra, led off her article:

“Deep in the heart of Japan’s countryside lived the oldest person in the world. His name was Jiroemon Kimura and in June 2013 he died at 116.”

Have gratitude, he stressed. His interviewer quoted him: “‘It’s not me,’ Kimura insisted, when people marveled at his age. ‘I could not make it on my own strength. It’s because of the strength of everyone around me.’ ” (Here, Bajra mentioned that in his province of southern Japan, there were “another 54 centenarians, three times the national average in a country already renowned for longevity.”)

“Kimura embodied Kansha, meaning gratitude, a core value in Japanese culture. To anyone he came in contact wit — his family, the caretaker, a visitor — he clasped his hands in prayer and bowed with sincerity, a touching display of gratitude so rare in today’s age it almost felt like a lost art.

“Gratitude, especially when part of a daily practice, is associated with the release in the body of serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine, all of which have significant roles in cardiac and mental health.”

I leave you with this wise old man’s “Tips for a Long Happy Life” culled to essence:

Live without attachment. Stay close to nature. Practice gratitude. And, laugh and be happy!

•••

Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, made her home on Kauai over, 30 years ago. She and her husband, a retired biology teacher, live with books, music and birds in Wailua Homesteads. Their shared passions are travel and golf. The writer’s books may be found in local outlets and on Amazon. For more information, go to www.kauaiweddingsandbooks.com.