JANE GLENN HAAS: Older years are no time to be adrift

I am somewhere near the coast of Guatemala on a cruise that took me from Florida through the Panama Canal and ends in Los Angeles.

The weather is warmish and a tad clingy but I'm having a terrific time.

This is my reward to myself for living 70 years, and my friend Sylvia and I picked a cruise where we feel like youngsters, mere elderbabes among the senior set.

The itinerary is slow-paced compared with our earlier Alaska adventure or even four nights of Caribbean hot spots.

I am forced to vacation. I seldom vacation. I tend to make trips to places like New York where I fill every waking moment with activity.

Here, I'm sitting on a deck chair in the afternoon, reading a book and waiting for the cocktail hour. For once, I'm not embarrassed to walk around the pool in my bathing suit.

I know what you're thinking. This is a cruise for retired silver hairs. Ah, sorta true. But don't lump all of us together. I'm still not able to think of myself as a "senior" because I'm too busy working, I guess.

Does not retiring keep you young? Certainly having a purpose makes a difference.

The seniors having the best time are the ones still engaged with life. From the folks at Fort Lauderdale who greet passengers for the cruise lines to the guy I talked with today who spends his weeks ferrying oldsters in his community to the doctor, to the store, to the movies.

You see it in the couples on this cruise.

Some couples are always holding hands. Some are celebrating 50-plus years of marriage. They go dancing every evening, spend afternoons in side-by-side deck chairs. Talk to them and find out this cruise is a break in their lives, a vacation from purposeful activity, from helping to raise grandchildren to still drawing a salary to owning their own business.

But, oh yes, there are the retired, bored grumps.

Like the guy from Pensacola who shared our table at a lavish hotel buffet in Antigua.

"I'm drinking my Coke without ice," he graveled at his wife. "I'm not risking my life on the local water."

She just continued pouring her soda over the glass of cubes.

"Well, I guess I'll have a couple of ice cubes," he finally said. "If you're going to get sick and die, I might as well too."

What tickled me was watching the way his wife handled the cascades of negativity. Like when she wanted to buy an embroidered satchel at a handicraft display outside the restaurant.

"Get all tore up in no time," he said.

She said nothing.

A little later, as I was sitting in the outdoor lobby enjoying the tropical flowers and talking to a couple of wise-looking parrots, I saw the couple exiting the hotel. She had the satchel over her shoulder.

Clearly, years with the grump had taught her to ignore his comments and just get on with her life.

Sylvia and I also have filled some lazy hours couple-watching. Mostly, figuring out the tricks of the trade – how two people meld their lives for decades and still maintain their individuality and dignity.

They separate during the day. She has a facial. He plays team trivia games led by the activities director.

They travel with friends. Couples traveling with other couples have the most to say, we decide. They can't wait to share their experiences at dinner and compare those experiences to other experiences and rate them on their private experience scale. (Cruise hint: If you find yourself sharing a table for six with two other couples, ask to be moved.)

Of course, there are those couples at tables for two who don't talk to anyone, even each other. Are they bored? Have they said all there is to say in life?

We have become a sort of floating family, the 1,400 of us on this adventure. And it has been a grand adventure, taking me to places I have longed to see for years.

We have visited with folks from Long Island and Calgary, Canada. We've walked into the clouds covering a volcano summit in Costa Rica. We've spent money on jade jewelry and embroidered dresses for granddaughters, T-shirts and handcarved teak masks.

Later this summer, I am forced to travel to New York on business. Life is tough. I'm also planning a trip to New Hampshire for the birth of my eighth grandchild (so far, six boys and one girl, but who's playing the odds?).

In between, I've got my newspaper columns and planning for the Nov. 3 conference for WomanSage (, a national nonprofit group I founded.

Sylvia has her grandchildren in various parts of the country and her job at a specialty furniture store plus some home design work on the side.

We're both too busy to retire. That's what separates us from the grumps and the boring.

With purpose in your life, it's OK to take time out and vacation.

Without purpose, you're just out of the batter's box.