New Year's resolutions. Do people still make them?
Most resolutions are petty and fleeting. A diet forgotten. An exercise program abandoned. Let me suggest a resolution for 2004 that's enduring and doable:
Resolve to help save the world, or at least a little corner of it.
Interested in the environment?
Many retirees work with organizations such as the National Audubon Society, Earth Watch and the U.S. Forest Service repairing public facilities in wilderness areas, building trails, planting and restoring parks. Some build homes for the poor with Habitat for Humanity.
Others join AARP's Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, working in nursing homes protecting the rights of the frail elderly.
There's the Peace Corps. VISTA. RSVP enlists more than half a million seniors across the country tutoring in schools, environmental watchdogging, assisting in clinics and courts and helping the elderly who are shut-ins.
All are good for your mind, your body and your community. I'm not talking about serving Christmas dinner to the homeless once a year. That's strictly an ego trip. I'm talking about commitment.
Hey, aren't you the one who complains that the world is in bad shape? Then get out of that easy chair, stand up and be counted.
Seniors are about the only citizens around who still remember when Americans truly cared about one another and the community in which we lived.
I even can remember when we trusted our government! That's really showing my age.
Today we swim in a sea of corporate exploitation and amorality so pervasive that younger people think it is normal. It may be up to us geezers to actually save democracy for our grandkids.
How's that for a little retirement project?
If you have the passion, resolve to get involved in politics. Run for election to your local school board. Attend city council meetings and beef loudly at any shenanigans.
Doris "Granny D" Haddock did. A few years back, this 90-year-old decided to protest the betrayal of democracy by money in politics. How? By walking from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., drawing attention to campaign finance reform every step of the way.
For more than a year, she walked 10 miles every day, telling everyone she met of Washington's failure to do anything to curb the legalized and institutionalized bribery that allows the highest bidders to shape the laws that run our country.
Haddock has emphysema. A case of arthritis required her to wear a steel-ribbed corset. By the time she marched into Washington D.C., she had brought awareness of our current system of government, as run by the wealthy elite, to hundreds of thousands of Americans across the land.
You don't have to walk 3,000 miles. Ray and May Chote resolved to help put citizen representation back into the House of Representatives. Ray, a 78-year-old Naval Academy graduate and Corsair pilot, and his wife, May, 79, decided to break up a cozy arrangement in the Florida Keys where no one ever bothered to run against the incumbent.
Last election, they not only ran against such candidates, but also enlisted 23 others from around Florida to do the same in their own communities. (FYI: Ray didn't spend a dime against his opponent's more than $600,000, yet he got 39 percent of the vote.)
So don't just retire, give up and fall into invisibility. Get involved. Help out. Be instrumental in change for the good. Resolve to help save the world.
Asked why she trekked across America on a mission some have called a fool's errand, Doris Haddock said: "Let me tell you about impossible causes. There are none on this Earth if they are good causes."
-- Frank Kaiser is a nationally syndicated columnist who lives in Clearwater. His Web site, www.suddenlysenior.com includes nostalgia, trivia, senior humor and 111 Best Senior Links. Write Frank c/o Seniority, the St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org