Leaving for Cuba in:
"Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows." Pope Paul VI
For years I've had this crazy idea to dance around the world. My vision was to visit every state and every country and find a local partner to teach me their native dance (e.g. "Argentine Tango" in Argentina; "Flamenco" in Spain, etc.). The idea seemed pretty far-fetched, even to me, and I couldn't really picture it happening . . . until tragedy struck my family.
In 2011, the last living member of my family, my brother Paul, died. He was diagnosed with advanced cancer at age 54, and despite his grave diagnosis, he went on to live a very full and remarkable life for another four years. Paul's doctors still use him as an example of how it's possible to live well - even with cancer. (Read the section below about Paul and you'll see why they say that.)
On March 25, 2011, I held Paul's hand as he took his final breath. I thanked him for all he'd given me because while he was dying, he really lived! In doing so, he taught me that:
After Paul died, I could no longer deny the fragility of life or my own death. I was confronted with the question, "What do I want to do with the rest of my life, however long that is?" As I often do in a crisis, I turned to books for help and found Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide by Caroline Adams Miller, a life coach. I asked Caroline if she'd help me find the answer to my question. When I mentioned wanting to dance around the world, she didn't laugh or dismiss my idea but simply said, "Nobody's every said that to me before. Let's figure out how to do it."
That response, and her belief in me, is what I needed to make my long-cherished dream a reality. Pursuing it has transformed my life in countless ways. It's shown me what I'm made of. I know now that when I truly make a commitment, I'll do everything in my power to make it happen. It's shown me, as one friend said, that I'm a "ballsy broad!"
Dancing around the world also keeps my mind young. Remember when you were in your 20s, how your whole life was in front of you and the possibilities seemed endless? Now that I'm living my dream, I have that feeling again.
Join me as I show you the world, the videos of my humble attempts to dance, and how I do this on a part-time salary. I'll show you, my fellow dancers, how to find the money, the time and the resources to dance around the world too. Having started this project at age 58, I want to support and show my fellow seniors that it is never too late!
My greatest wish is that my journeys will inspire you to ask and answer the question, "What do I want to do with the rest of my life, however long that is?" and for you to pursue your dreams. In doing so, you will help keep my brother's spirit alive.
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" - Mary Oliver
I was born eleven months after my brother, so for one month out of the year we were the same age. Every year he’d call to ask, “How does it feel to be so damn old?” When it was my turn, I’d call and say, “Happy Birthday you old geezer. Are you in need of any assistive devices yet?” I miss those calls.
It was a few weeks after our yearly ritual in 2007 that Paul was diagnosed with advanced colorectal cancer, stage IV at age 54. Instead of collapsing in that dire prognosis, my brother lived his life to the fullest for the next four years - in a way that was truly inspirational to me. I'd like to share a little about those years. Maybe it will trigger a memory of someone who inspired you.
Paul spent as much time as possible with the two greatest loves of his life -- his daughters, Heather and Stephanie. He continued to work full time as a parts manager at Mack Truck. He also decided to tackle a few unfinished projects at home. One thing led to another and he ended up landscaping and remodeling his whole house, almost entirely on his own.
His two favorite activities were golf and watching TV. The only thing that could possibly be more fun would be to rig up his golf cart with a TV and a satellite dish . . . which he considered. He also continued his annual winter trips to Las Vegas.
Then he bought his dream car, a Mustang convertible . . . and his dream truck, a Harley Davidson . . . and, a few days before he died he had his eye on a Mercedes Benz . . . . and a puppy. He never gave up hope. His doctors still use him as an example of how someone can live a full life, even with cancer.
Paul was one of those people who truly never complained about his illness or the things he had to endure. One way he coped was with his never-ending humor:
If only Paul's little piston could talk . . . It's ridden the stunningly beautiful Pacific Coast Highway from San Diego to San Francisco. It's been to San Jose, California and Silicon Valley. It's been to all the Caribbean islands and Puerto Rico, the Mexican Riviera, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. It's been to Seattle, Portland, New York City, Washington, D.C. and Bethesda, MD. It's been "over the pond" to Portugal.
So far, I've danced Bachata, Salsa, Bomba, West Coast Swing, Kizomba, and Swing Criollo. I even had the honor of dancing Merengue with a 100-year-old man in Costa Rica.
Since I was 57 years old when I started this project, I really struggled with the nagging thoughts that I'm too old and it's too late. To help dispel these beliefs, I searched for role models to show me what's possible no matter my age. I found these two amazing women!
"There is nothing we cannot do if we harness the power within us." - Tao Porchon-Lynch
Tao Porchon-Lynch was 84 years old when she had her hip replaced. Her surgeon said her flexibility would never be the same. Her response to him was to send this photo.
Tao had an advantage in her healing. She's been practicing yoga for 70 years and teaching it for 45 years. At 96 years "young", Tao is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest living active yoga teacher. By practicing yoga's principles Tao has been able to control her body and mind to overcome the effects of aging.
Three years after her hip replacement Tao began Ballroom dancing competitively. Since then she's won over 600 1st-place awards!
Tao has had a fascinating life. Born in India, she marched with Mahatma Gandhi and later with Charles de Gaulle and Martin Luther King. In her early career she was a model and gained the title "Best Legs in Europe". During World War II, she moved to London and became a cabaret performer under the mentorship of Noël Coward.
After the war, she moved to the United States and became an actress under Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in movies like The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) in which she co-starred with Elizabeth Taylor. (You can learn more about her in the links below.)
I sent an email to Tao asking if she had any advice about my dream. She said, "Focus on breathing, have fun, and if you go to Bombay there’s a professional ballroom dancer I'd like you to meet!" - Visit Tao's website.
Umpha is particularly inspiring to me because our stories are similar. Both of us have had a passion for dance since early adulthood. Grief was the trigger that brought both of us back to dance where we found healing. And even though neither of us seriously pursued dance for 40-50 years, our dream of dancing beautifully never died.
It was years before Umpha could pursue her passion. She had married a man from a royal family in Bangkok who frowned upon dancing. Eventually she divorced and moved to Chicago where she raised her children as a single parent, which left no time for dance.
Tragically, Umpha's granddaughter died suddenly of an aneurysm and Umpha was inconsolable. Even grief counseling didn't help. A niece encouraged her to attend an open house at a dance studio where she discovered that "when I'm on the dance floor my unhappiness disappears."
After six months of dance lessons Umpha won a national Latin dance championship! To me, that's living proof that it’s possible to achieve your dream no matter how late you start. It’s my hope that since Umpha did it - I can too! —Read more about Umpha.
First I created a few rules.
Of course, all this is subject to change at any time . . . they're my rules!
There are approximately 195 countries in the world. At my current rate of travel I'll need to live to be 125 years old. (Note to self: Time to start eating right.)
Here's a fascinating TED Talk about a 75-year study on adult development. The study answers the questions, "What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life?" "How do we build a fulfilling, long life?" The study revealed the one thing that matters!
I study my shower curtain while I soak in the tub . . .
A note of caution! If you map faces inward like mine does, don't use an automatic shower/bathtub cleaner (the ones that spray the area when you push a button). I nearly lost Alaska before I realized the cleaner fades the map.
I check out the map on my garage wall . . .
OR . . . whenever someone says:
"Hey Karen, I've always wanted to go to ____________! Wanna join me?"