I strongly believe in the value of mental exercise to promote healthy aging. Fortunately, it’s quite easy to find activities that suite every personality and interest. For some, this means a daily crossword puzzle while others are avid Sudoku fans. (Regretfully, those math puzzles make my eyes cross.) Some people turn to OLLI classes, all designed for the “lifelong learner.”
My husband diligently practices his Spanish with an interactive computer program while I stretch my gray matter through writing projects, music and learning how to produce, host and edit television programs, thanks to our local PBS North Coast station. (I never thought I’d be doing that at 67! Talk about mental stimulation … and fun!)
But by the time you are reading this column, we will be immersed in bit of mental exercise that will either make us or break us because … we will be Japan. (I get goosebumps just writing that!)
Traveling has always been a priority for us. We honeymooned in Europe (For years the best way for me to recall the date of our wedding anniversary was to count backwards one day from the day we flew off to England!) I’ll never forget my husband’s young face when he saw the Colosseum in Rome for the first time. He was overwhelmed by its magnitude and history.
Traveling satisfies our curiosity and is also humbling. (I’m grateful we are able to periodically step away from our nation to get a different perspective of our place in the world.) It also challenges our problem-solving abilities. (Then, there was the time we ran to catch the train in Austria … only to have it go 50 yards and stop. Our hearts sank when we realized the train we were supposed to be on was pulling out on the tracks right next to us!)
While travel stretched our family budget, we made sure our kids were exposed to other parts of our country, Canada and Mexico. There must have been value in exposing our kids to life beyond our Redwood Curtain. Our youngest daughter lived in Zambia, our son shoots video production jobs all over the globe and our oldest daughter honeymooned in Southeast Asia.
So last fall, when our son called and asked us if we’d like to join him and his partner for a trip to Japan, the answer was a quick and enthusiastic yes! Naturally, tagging along with these two good-natured guys was nearly as enticing as Japan itself. (Heck, I’d go anywhere with my kids if they wanted!)
We immediately started learning all we could about the beautiful island of Japan and that’s where our mental exercise officially began. We started making lists of things we wanted to see and do, tried to understand the very complex but apparently highly efficient transportation system and quickly accepted the reality that language was surely going to be a vexing experience. (Having worked in Japan on a few different occasions, our son has told us that once out of the cities we can expect meet the most considerate people he has ever encountered, a cash economy, not much spoken English and plenty of polite staring because all four of us are six feet tall or better!)
But the real test will come after the first eight days, when the “boys” return to the states! (They have work and medical school to get back to, poor kids.) I have this image of the two of us, huddling close, waving goodbye to them as our knees knock and our hearts race. It will be sink or swim time!
No, actually, I trust that by the time we are bidding them farewell, we’ll be fine. Really now, how can we go wrong in a country where the “consideration of others” is one of their most revered cultural values?
That said, I imagine we will have had plenty of fun but exhausting mental exercise by the time we fly home, but for me, I can’t think of a better kind of fatigue.
While I’m gone, why don’t you give your brain cells a little work out by trying something new?
With that, I won’t close with “sayonara,” the word most of us believe is the proper way to say goodbye in Japanese. No, my mental exercise has already begun. I learned that sayonara has a strong sense of finality to it. Trust me, that’s not my plan! Instead I’ll part with a simple “bai-bai” — yep, bye-bye. I’ll see you in a few weeks!
Tracey Barnes Priestley is a life coach with a master’s degree in community counseling psychology and more than 30 years of experience as a counselor, educator and consultant. She is married and the mother of three adult children, and the author of “Duck Pond Epiphany.” Visit her website, www.thesecondhalfonline.com; email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org; or send your letters to 665 F St., Arcata, CA, 95521. Tracey regrets she cannot answer all letters and emails.