When I was 19 years old, I was accepted to the University of Hawai`i for their summer dance program. This cultural enrichment experience invited girls from the mainland to learn the traditional dances of the islands. It was expected we would return home with the knowledge of Hawai`ian heritage and help promote cultural visits.
I had a transferable scholarship that paid my tuition, room and board with my parents paying for my travel. The day before my scheduled departure I received a call detailing the dance program was cancelled due to a lack of enrollment. Disappointed I asked the enrollment coordinator for my options and signed-up another random class.
I arrived jet lagged on a Saturday morning at the Gateway House, room 404. It was my first time away from home, everything felt new and exciting. Having one year of college under my belt, I felt I knew it all. Over the coming days I met roommates and neighbors, and that's when I met Helen.
Helen wasn't a traditional student. She was probably in her late 60s, full of life, vitality and wisdom - something I would not appreciate until many years later. She recounted the story of attending the open summer program at the University of Hawai`i for decades. She took fun classes, stayed at the dorms and lived among college students all summer long. Her choice to attend the program did not make sense to me, but then I don't know what I pictured myself doing at her age. Looking back, I see why she did that.
Hawai`i is magical.
My summer there was incredible. I met people from all over the world, I fell deeply in love with a Swedish man and started to discover my individuality as an adult.
Recently I thought of Helen. And wondered if she is still around and taking classes at the university. I thought about her courage to do something against the grain to pursue something she loved. I am sure life on campus wasn't always the easiest for her. I think about how she must have laughed while trying to have deep conversations with us and all we cared about was getting into a night club without getting carded. I wish I'd sat with her to chat over a coffee. I wish I would have grabbed a meal with her to get advice about love. I wish she would have shared her stories of heartbreak and learned from them...
Where ever you are Helen, cheers to you. Cheers to doing your thing without caring about what anyone said. You lived life on your own terms and 24 years after meeting you that's exactly what I am trying to figure out. I realize now that age is just a number, and the wisdom we acquire every time life kicks us is something we have to experience alone.
Thank you for the time-released lesson you shared. I will never forget it.
Header photo credit @tatonomusic