|From Brenda Paik Sunoo's "Moon Tides: Jeju Island Grannies of the Sea"|
I was born on February 13, 1948. During my last few physical exams, I have repeatedly been warned to watch my cholesterol, supplement my diet with Vitamin D, monitor uterine fibroids, irrigate my sinuses, and practice Pilates due to a herniated disc. It’s no wonder that I’ve never dreamt of diving into the sea. That is, until I encountered the sea women of Jeju Island, Korea—known as haenyeo.
For centuries, these divers have faced the tempestuous tides of history and struggle for survival. Their intimate relationship to the land and sea, their shaman beliefs, and communal village life have protected them throughout their entire lives. In return, many have sustained a continuous life of purpose and resiliency well into their 90s.
Three years ago, I turned sixty. I began searching for inspiring role models---aging women who remained active until they died. Not women who died because they had regrettably aged. To a graying baby boomer like myself, these haenyeo stories became gleaming beaconsilluminating a wise, practical and fearless course.
Through their examples, I believe that one’s life purpose can be as continuous and infinite as the sea. For centuries, these Jeju divers have kept their lives afloat--in spite of risks and danger. As one granny told me, “If we didn’t, we couldn’t survive.”
Having been blessed to drift among them for for 7 months over the course of three years, I feel more comfortable with aging. Thankfully, one is never too old to be inspired by others. I have even begun to imagine my life as a septuagenarian and octogenarian. Granted, I will never become a working woman of the sea like the haenyeo. But if I do live well into my 90s, I hope to lead a continuous life of purpose as they have. Gray-haired, wrinkled and polyp-free.