Killings at the Tree of Life

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On Saturday, October 27, 2018, an anti-Semitic man walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and shot and killed 11 people. This massacre is the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.

Last night, October 29th, 2018, I attended a memorial service at the synagogue of Congregation B’Nai Israel in Sacramento, California. The synagogue was packed with 1,300+ Jewish and non-Jewish people – people of different ethnicities, clergy from all faiths, politicians, heads of law enforcement agencies, and members of the media. People stood several rows deep in the back and around the synagogue.

We were there to express our condolences to the congregations of the Tree of Life Synagogue, to the people of Pittsburgh, and to the Jewish community around the world. We were there to mourn the violent and senseless taking of life. We were there for help in processing a new reality of unleashed and lethal hatred.

In her opening remarks, Rabbi Mona Alfi spoke about the biblical story of the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. When God asked Cain where Abel was, Cain replied, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” This, Rabbi Alfi said, is a question we have to answer.

For everyone at the memorial service, our presence was our answer to this question – a resounding “Yes, I am my brother’s keeper.” By coming together we made a statement to ourselves, to each other, to everyone who has been frightened, and to everyone who seeks to intimidate and terrorize that we stand together against hatred and violence. Being our brother’s keeper means calling out and opposing lies, deception, divisive propaganda, unlawful government actions, and rhetoric that fans the fires of anger and aggression.

Our humanity unites us. We have more in common than we have extrinsic differences. When some of us are demeaned, devalued, and dehumanized, it divides us. And when we are divided, it becomes easier for some of us to be preyed upon. The decision to remain united with our fellow human beings who are threatened or attacked could be seen as a selfish one – there is safety in numbers. But it is a choice that speaks of the beliefs and values we hold dear and choose to live by.

These are the names of my brothers and sisters who were murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue. May their memories be for a blessing.

Joyce Fienberg, 75

Richard Gottfried, 65

Rose Malinger, 97

Jerry Rabinowitz, 66

Cecil Rosenthal, 59

David Rosenthal, 54

Bernice Simon, 84

Sylvan Simon, 86

Daniel Stein, 71

Melvin Wax, 88

Irving Younger, 69

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.

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Aloha ‘Oe – Farewell to Thee

 

 

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Copyright Writing Wahine, Living off Island 2018. 

Did I try hard enough? I asked myself this question for months, but as long as she was alive, I didn’t have to face the final answer. First came the news about her stroke, which explained why she hadn’t been at the Hawaiian shows and festivals where we always caught up with each other. Then came the news that she was home but having memory issues and dealing with her new physical limitations. Whenever I saw her husband and her daughter, they politely said she wasn’t ready to see people, but they would let me know. Each time they cheerfully assured me that she was fine and not to worry.

Then came the moment I saw her husband standing nearby as I was waiting to go on stage and perform at an outdoor festival. I was eager for news about her and once again hopeful for an invitation to visit. But as I spoke excitedly, performance adrenaline in my veins, I watched his face fall. His chest rose, his jaws clenched, and the light in his eyes dimmed. For the umpteenth time, he had to tell someone that his wife passed away. Months ago. Not from complications of her stroke. From brain cancer. Two weeks after she moved into a care facility. There was no memorial service. They were waiting for the right time…

Pushing my shock aside, I awkwardly offered my condolences. I walked back to the rear steps of the stage, still trying to absorb the blow. Panic washed over me as I suddenly couldn’t remember choreography. Muscle memory kicked in, and I smiled through my group’s performance.

In this age of cancer journeys shared and chronicled on social media, her news blackout was a throwback to the days of private illnesses and protective inner circles. People share for different reasons: for help in bearing their pain; to ease the worry of those who care; to inform, to educate, and to inspire others… People who live privately usually die the same way.

She is the second person I’ve known who refused to see friends during a cancer battle. The first person passed away several years ago. He fought in a war. He retired from law enforcement. He was a lifelong bachelor. As inflexible and as gruff as he could be, I knew his heart was softer than he wanted the world to know and that he had made a spot in it for me. Not being able to say goodbye or to have one final normal, happy meeting with him haunted me for a long time.

Her hobby was decorative arts, and a few of her creations are in my home. I will always picture her as she wanted me to see her: with her hair perfectly done, a pua (flower) tucked behind one ear, adorned in her Hawaiian gold jewelry, her smile big and bright. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t get to say goodbye. I was blessed to know the gentle, warm, and loving person she was.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.

When a Dinosaur Gets a Fitbit

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Copyright Writing Wahine, Living off Island 2018.

I’m married to a man who likes tech toys. For my husband, anything worth doing can be done better with a piece of technology. Why read a printed book when you can read it on an iPad? Why listen to music if you’re not listening on a designer speaker via Bluetooth? Why bother getting fit if you’re not using a Fitbit?

I’m a dinosaur. I like writing notes in cursive with ballpoint pens and sending them via snail mail. When I need to drive somewhere I’ve never been before, I look up the route on my laptop, print the directions, and practically memorize the route before I get in my car. I rely on treadmills and elliptical machines to tell me how many miles I’ve gone and how many calories I’ve burned. I prefer the feel of a hard copy book in my hands to an iPad or a Kindle.

After many failed attempts, my husband recently convinced me to get a toy he already has – the Fitbit Blaze, a smart watch. I always told him I didn’t want to know how far short I fell of the daily 5,000- or 10,000-step goal. But I’m a life-long insomniac, so the sleep tracking function was what finally enticed me.

I’ve only had my Fitbit for 2.5 days and the only surprise so far is that I get even less sleep than I think. The sleep app tracks my sleep stages – awake, REM, light, and deep. I slept three hours last night, five hours the night before, and both nights most of my sleep was light. Abysmal. I need to make some serious changes.

I already know that I will not be a slave to my smart watch. I will not enter (into my iPhone or my laptop) all the foods that I eat so my Fitbit can count my calories. I will not enter every drop of water I drink so my Fitbit can tell me how hydrated I am. My husband happily does these things. I know I shouldn’t judge him for this, but I can’t keep my eyes from rolling. I must be cranky from lack of sleep.

Since my husband got his Fitbit, his collection of handsome watches has been neglected. I keep looking at this black square and black band on my wrist and asking, “Why can’t you be pretty like my other watches?”

Before my Fitbit, I had already lost 11 pounds in 9 weeks the old fashioned way: I ate healthier foods in correct portions; I drank lots of water, some coffee, no soda, and very little juice; and I did cardio and weight training five days a week. I did this with no personal trainer, no meetings, and no pre-packaged foods. Pretty good for a dinosaur, right?

But here’s the thing that has me laughing at myself. My Fitbit vibrates when I get a phone call or a text message. And I can read the text message on my Fitbit screen. Ooooo… This dinosaur likes this. The dance of seduction is on.

I’ve been here before. I loved my StarTac flip phone that made me want to say, “Beam me up, Scotty” every time I opened it. But then my job made me use an office-issue cellphone, which was the size and shape of a blackboard eraser. That phone let me send text messages by pressing each button the correct number of times to get the letter I needed. Texting took forever, but that’s when this dinosaur learned to like text messages.

Then this dinosaur had to take a long, hard look at her leather bound, monogrammed, stuffed-to-the-gills, sticky-notes-poking-out Franklin Covey planner. “I’m visual,” I used to say, “I need to see things to remind me.” My planner took up most of the space in my briefcase, but I lugged it around dutifully. I’d quickly write court dates and meeting times on Post-its and enter them into my planner later. My husband coaxed me into trying the calendaring app on my iPhone. I dragged my feet and whined while I learned all the shortcuts, but I quickly learned the benefits to having my calendar on my laptop and my phone. I retired my planner and parted ways with Franklin Covey.

So I won’t be returning my Fitbit just yet, but I’m not giving up my dinosaur ways. When Armageddon, the zombie apocalypse, or the collapse of the Cloud happens, tech lovers will be asking to borrow my hard copy and paperback books. I’ll remind the world that it’s possible to lose weight without the assistance of a gadget. And I’ll teach people that cursive is faster than printing. Until then, I’ll be the dinosaur who’s always late to the party when it comes to discovering the latest and greatest in tech.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.

The Chaos of Love

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Copyright Boscia Photography 2018.

It’s typical for hula hālau (hula schools) to have an annual hō’ike (show) that allows the haumāna (students) to share what they have learned. Contrary to popular thought, the primary purpose of a hō’ike is not to entertain. Hula has spiritual roots as religious ceremonial rituals. At the hālau I belong to, we are taught that the true purpose of hō’ike is to honor and to give thanks for what we have learned about dance, history, culture, ourselves, and each other.

That being said, our hula hālau puts on a great show, thanks to our kumu hula (hula teacher). Oli (chants) for hula kahiko (ancient hula) connect us to the past and carry tradition forward. Musicians and vocalists provide a wonderful concert for the hula ‘auana (modern hula). The costumes and adornments made from fresh greenery such as ti leaves (la’i) and ferns provide a colorful feast for the eyes. All this combined with beautiful choreography performed by dancers makes for an enjoyable show.

We have to laugh after each hō’ike, though, when we gather for kūkākūkā (discussion) to share our thoughts and memories about the experience – backstage and onstage. For those of you who are stage performers or who volunteer to help backstage, you know what I’m talking about. Human beings aren’t perfect, so their endeavors won’t be. Things don’t always go as planned or as rehearsed. We roll with it and do our best.

Somehow each year, hō’ike is perfect when viewed through the eyes and in the memories of love. Members of a hula hālau share the common goal to learn and preserve the Hawaiian culture. We are taught to live by the core values of aloha (love) and ha’aha’a (humility). When people come together with this common goal and these shared values, love prevails, allowing us to accept ourselves and each other with all our strengths and all our weaknesses. This is what our kumu calls “the chaos of love.”

The best thing about the chaos of love is that it can work in every area of our lives – with our families, with our co-workers, and in our communities. With love, chaos can be embraced as a display of human emotions, honest and free of ill will. With love, mistakes are lessons learned for the future instead of embarrassments. And the icing on the cake is that when you don’t take yourself too seriously, you’ll find it easy to laugh at yourself and at life. So when you’ve done all you can, surrender to the chaos of love. You’ll be fine.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.

When Love Means Everything

 

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Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine 2018. 

I’ve been a tennis fan since I was 13 years old. My skills are nothing to brag about, but I love playing. My husband once videotaped me serving while we were playing at the Kapalua Tennis Resort on Mau’i. The video made me laugh so hard that I cried. I looked so awkward and uncoordinated that it looked like I was purposely trying to be funny. Brad Gilbert, a retired tennis pro player, wrote a book called “Winning Ugly.” I don’t win, I just play ugly.

When our kids were growing up, my husband and I tried to get them into tennis. We bribed our daughter with pretty tennis outfits. Our son was a trooper. He dutifully took lessons and even entered a juniors’ tournament. But then high school came along. Our daughter, who was already a ballet dancer, decided to try cheerleading. Our son declared his preference for the team sports of baseball and football.

For a while, my husband and I soldiered on and played tennis without the kids. But it got harder to find time for tennis as we spent more time driving the kids to their classes and practices and attending their shows and games. Then I injured my foot badly during a tennis clinic, and by the time I was healed enough to get back to tennis, my life seemed to have taken off in another direction. That was seven or eight years ago.

The 2018 French Open Tennis Tournament took place from late May through early June. I happened to see a commercial for the event and I immediately decided I’d try to watch a few matches. I ended up watching most of the tournament – thank you, Tennis Channel. My husband said he knew from the way I was hooked that I’d be back on the courts. I got my old racquets restrung, bought a new pair of tennis shoes, and proved my husband correct.

My first day back at tennis was a delicate balance of excitement and caution. I had lingering worry about reinjuring my foot, but I couldn’t wait to feel that old sensation of making contact with that yellow ball and following through. To my relief, muscle memory didn’t fail me. I was rusty, older, and out of shape, but I still loved playing.

A few days later, I started thinking about getting back into tennis lessons and clinics. I started remembering my old tennis coaches and the people I saw regularly at clinics and group lessons. One man stood out in my mind – a gentleman whose nickname was Dick. Like his nickname (for Richard), Dick had old world manners. He was a retiree, and it was easy to see how his social skills in business served him well in his personal life. There was always an air of formality about him, but he’d talk about going on vacation or about his grandkids, so he never seemed aloof. He was likeable. After I stopped playing tennis, I saw Dick in the cardio room at our tennis club a few times, but eventually I stopped seeing Dick at the club. I wondered if Dick was still playing tennis and if I’d see him out on the courts again.

Nearly two weeks after my first day back at tennis, I was checking in at the front desk of our tennis club. I noticed a copy of an obituary placed in a frame sitting on the counter. I pulled the frame toward me and read it. The obituary was for Dick. He died two days after my first day back on the tennis courts. Stunned and saddened, I walked to the cardio room and went through my usual routine, my mind preoccupied by what I had just read.

Dick lived to a good old age. He left behind a loving family and friends. I don’t know if he played tennis to the end. But I can picture him seeing me back on the courts. I can see him smiling as he says to me, “Welcome back. Good for you. Do the things you love, and enjoy playing while you can.” This seems like the kind of polite and friendly thing he’d do.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.

 

Mother’s Day Cards

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One of the hardest lessons about grieving that I learned when my brother died was that a memory could come out of nowhere and suddenly bring me to tears. In the first few months after my brother’s cancer diagnosis, I would see something or hear a song that reminded me of him and instantly I’d lose my breath, my throat would close, and tears would fill my eyes. Sometimes I ran to a ladies room to cry.

I would later learn that these episodes were anticipatory grieving. My brother’s bleak prognosis made me face the prospect of losing him. Although I’ll never know for sure, I sometimes think that bracing myself for my brother’s death lessened the blow for me when he passed away 14 months after his diagnosis.

The passing of my grandmother at the age of 94, three months shy of her 95th birthday, came with no warning. She was in the hospital after making it through surgery for a broken hip that resulted from a fall. She was in Honolulu, five hours away from me by plane, with loving family members, and I was sure I would see her soon to wish her a happy 95th birthday. But Grandma passed away after hospital staff tried to get her up and walking. She was too weak and in too much pain to start her physical therapy. Grandma worked hard her entire life and never sat still, and I think God told her it was finally time to rest.

This weekend I went to Target to find a Mother’s Day card for my mom, and the sight of Mother’s Day cards for grandmas triggered another out-of-nowhere moment. I stared at the word “grandma” on a card for what felt like a long time. A twinge of pain shot through me as I realized I didn’t need a grandma card anymore. Thoughts of Grandma ran through my head and my vision blurred with tears, but I was stronger this time, and I didn’t run to the ladies room to cry.

It’s ironic. I always thought of going to the store to buy cards for Mother’s Day as an errand, a to-do on my list, a chore. That’s not to say that I didn’t choose and send these cards with love. But now that I don’t have to buy cards for my grandma and my mother-in-law who passed away several years ago, I feel deprived.

Today I included two Mother’s Day cards in the box I sent my mom. Just because I can.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.

Dear Manhattan

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View of Manhattan from Liberty Island. Copyright Writing Wahine, Living off Island 2018.

Dear Manhattan,

You and I hung out during my high school years. We lived together during my college years. Then I moved away. Since then, you and I have seen each other off and on. We always have a good time when I come back to see you. You bring excitement, glamour, nostalgia, and novelty to my life.

But, dear Manhattan, you’re also high maintenance. Walking on your sidewalks is like running with the bulls. Dawdle and you’ll get trampled. Pause to appreciate architecture or to read a street sign, and you’ll piss off the teeming masses behind you. Then they will sigh or huff loudly to voice their displeasure as they walk around you. Such an overabundance of important people with important places to be. Avoid tourist traps or commuting hours? Then walking is downgraded to an action-packed game of people dodging. You lose points if you brush against or bump into other players.

You’re loud. Construction and street repairs barely drown out the sound of intermittent sirens and the constant angry honking of cars.

There is a great price to pay to do anything with you. Lines. Long lines. For everything. And traffic. So. Much. Traffic. Heart-stopping rides in cabs, Ubers, and Lyfts driven by aggressive drivers who hate their jobs. Life is short, and high blood pressure is no joke. Jus sayin’.

And, dear Manhattan, you don’t keep the cleanest house. The smell of urine at random corners or subway entrances, the registry of hotels with reported bed bug infestations, subway car surfaces that have never met bleach. I could go on, but you and I go way back, and these things never used to bother me when I was younger.

I know, I know, you have no shortage of admirers and fans eager to spend time with you. You’re gorgeous and seductive. You don’t need online dating services. It’s not you. It’s me.

I’ve changed. I’ve been to the promised land where people walk to enjoy things… like the weather… and flowers… and being alive. Where people aren’t breathing down each other’s necks as they avert their gaze on packed subway cars. Where people have elbowroom and breathing room. Where people don’t pay good money for standing-only room.

So, dear Manhattan, the once love of my life, I think I have finally fallen out of love with you. Since you have permanent legal and physical custody of Columbia University, the Yankees, and many other things I love, we will always have a bond and we will always be part of each other’s lives. But I will definitely be seeing more of other cities. So please don’t troll me if you see photos of them on my social media accounts.

I’ll always love you.

-Me

 ©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.