Category Archives: Life

When Love Means Everything

 

InTennis

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.

 

Advertisements

Mea Wiwo ‘Ole (Adventurer)

FullSizeRender.jpg

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Honolulu to dance in a hula show at the Neal Blaisdell Concert Hall. The show (hō’ike) featured 400 hula dancers from different Hawaiian islands, California, Montana, Canada, Tahiti, Japan, and New Zealand. The culmination of many months of planning, preparing, and practicing, the show was a celebration of Kumu Hula (hula teacher) Blaine Kamalani Kia and his 30 years of teaching. All of the dancers in the show were his students (haumana) or students of kumu hula trained by him.

None of us had ever danced in a show this big. The logistical requirements were challenging, to say the least. For dancers who were also organizers and leaders (alaka’i), the work doubled or tripled. The little sleep afforded by the pre- and post-show schedules that included rehearsals, making adornments from ti leaves, and ceremonial protocols, like our sunrise prayer service (haipule) at the beach, pushed us out of our physical comfort zones.

I’m not a natural performer. In fact, my Hawaiian name means “the reserved/shy one.” I dance on stage to conquer my shyness. Still, performing on stage doesn’t terrify me as much as making adornments from ti leaves and other plants and flowers. It takes me a long time, with many re-do’s, start-over’s, and assists from my alaka’i , to complete my adornments. Needless to say, I had some anxiety even before I boarded the plane for Honolulu. I had to work through my anxieties in an exhausted state, away from my home and routine.

The show was fantastic – a beautiful mixture of ancient chants (oli), song (mele), ancient hula (kahiko), modern hula (auana), and nostalgia. It lasted five hours, two hours past the scheduled three. We spent much of this time standing backstage, barefoot on concrete floors, waiting, and getting lined up to go on stage. Our feet, legs, and backs ached for days after.

But when it was all over and our tired and swollen bodies had recovered, we were left with wonderful memories, new friends from around the world, and a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I learned things about myself and those around me, I acquired some new skills, and I felt a teeny bit tougher.

This experience made me realize how exhilarating it was to do new things, in new places, in new ways. It made me see that I seldom willingly wander out of my comfort zone. If it’s true that people cross our paths for a reason, I met two individuals who helped me understand the importance of adventure.

On the flight to Honolulu, I sat next to a young man in his mid-twenties who was moving from California to Honolulu. He was a surfer who had visited Hawai’i several times. He had no family in Hawai’i, but he felt drawn to live there. He got a job with a local business, found an apartment, shipped his car and some of his things, and was now flying to Honolulu with two pieces of checked luggage. This young man was neither nervous nor excited, he was serene. His adventure would be as much inward as it would be outward in his new home.

On the plane back to California, I sat next to an unaccompanied minor. This poised and charming young boy, who looked eight or nine years old to my eyes, surprised me when he said he was 12. He was coming back from a visit to his relatives on O’ahu. This wasn’t his first time flying to Honolulu alone, but this time he had also flown to Mau’i for the first time to visit an uncle.

The young man and the little boy fascinated me. As someone who dreams of moving back to Hawai’i some day, I felt a vicarious thrill sitting next to someone who had the guts to pursue his dream and make it happen. As a parent of two grown children, I marveled at the young boy who boarded planes alone and flew across an ocean to visit relatives. These individuals ventured into the unknown with courage enough to outweigh their fears. Both had an aura of composure and confidence. Neither was driven by the need for attention or adrenaline.

Here’s to following the lighted exit path and leaving my comfort zone more often.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

 

 

 

Epic Fail

Epic Fail

Copyright Writing Wahine, Living off Island 2017.

Before I start a project, I try to think through all the objectives and all the hurdles. When I’m confident I’ve come up with the best way to get it done, I begin. Needless to say, I don’t expect surprises, and I’m not happy when things don’t go as planned. Type A? Controlling? Tell me something I don’t know. I think I’m getting better, though.

While we were vacationing in Kaua’i last summer, I decided we needed a good family photo, the kind we might use for a Christmas card if I got around to getting one done. I rallied my troops outside so the Pacific Ocean could be our backdrop.

It was a beautiful, sunny day. The ocean breeze kept us from getting hot. We squished together in various poses while the person with the longest arms held my iPhone in front of us, above us, at any angle that would get us all in the frame. We squinted. We brushed the hair off our faces. Passersby distracted my kids and, although they weren’t teenagers anymore, I knew they were embarrassed to be doing something not cool with their parents. My husband got impatient. We all got frustrated. It was a disaster.

When I started laughing so hard that I couldn’t compose myself for one more shot, I ended our suffering and pulled the plug on my project. The Christmas card photo in July was an epic fail and my favorite memory of that vacation. I kept a few of the bad, endearing photos as a sweet reminder to embrace foiled plans for all the learning and laughter they bring.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

 

The Teddy Bear

Teddy Bear

A woman I’ll call Ana was tried for the murder of her 18-month-old son in Sacramento, California. A teddy bear should have been the least of her concerns, but it was always somewhere in the back of her mind.

Ana was the breadwinner of her household. She supported her infant son, the boy’s twin sister, their older sibling, and her boyfriend who was the children’s father. Ana worked in a restaurant in San Francisco where the minimum wage was higher. Because she didn’t own a car, commuting from Sacramento to San Francisco would have entailed a costly, twice-daily, six-hour ordeal involving the Sacramento light rail, a commuter bus, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), and walking. Ana made the difficult decision to sleep on friends’ couches and commute home to Sacramento only when she had days off – two to three times per month.

The coroner determined that when he died, Ana’s infant son had pneumonia, sepsis, and broken ribs that had healed. The infant was also malnourished. Police investigated for almost one year before prosecutors charged Ana and her boyfriend with murder.

After Ana and her boyfriend were arrested, social workers from children’s protective services removed the two remaining children from the home. As often happened with abandoned units, Ana’s apartment became an easy target for break-ins.

At trial, the prosecutor argued that Ana and her boyfriend were negligent in failing to get their son medical care that would have prevented the malnutrition and infection that led to his death. Ana’s attorney presented evidence that Ana saw the baby for only a few days each month, pointing the finger of neglect toward Ana’s boyfriend as the primary caretaker.

There was also testimony from experts that Ana was a battered woman who was not psychologically capable of standing up to her boyfriend’s decisions regarding the care of their children. Like most battered women, Ana had unconsciously recreated her past; her boyfriend was not the first man to abuse her.

Ana and her boyfriend were ultimately acquitted of murder, but her boyfriend was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sent to prison. Ana was released from jail but would not be reunited with her two young children who were now living with a relative in another state.

Weeks later Ana was at a store and saw a man and a woman who were her neighbors at the apartment complex where she lived in Sacramento. She approached them and asked if they recognized her. Not only did they recognize her, they were excited to see her. “We have your bear!” they told her.

What this couple really had was the urn containing the ashes of Ana’s son. Knowing that the urn was inside the teddy bear, the couple had taken it from Ana’s abandoned apartment for safekeeping. These neighbors never visited Ana in jail and never took time off from work to attend her trial, but they managed to perform an important act of kindness that brought someone who had been through hell a needed dose of comfort and happiness.

Long after Ana’s pain, anguish, excitement, and joy have faded, she will need hope to rebuild her life. Whenever Ana looks at her teddy bear, she will think of her son. She will also be reminded that goodness and kindness endured as she went through hell. And she will remember to hope.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

 

 

 

The Vintage Aesthetic

vintage

I know a young woman who has decorated her last two homes with vintage furniture. A faux fireplace with distressed wood and peeling paint. A dark brown armchair and matching ottoman with patches of cracked, faded, and thinning leather. An Art Deco-inspired vanity circa the 1950’s or 60’s with rubbed edges and glossy patina. A dining room hutch with raw wood showing through sanded-down finishes of chipped matte paint.

Walk through any home decor store and you’ll find faux antique clocks, wall hangings, and knickknacks that exude the charm and romanticism of days long gone. Vintage fashion, from high-end couture to budget-friendly interpretation, has inspired the opening of many consignment and thrift stores. Stores sell outdated cameras, typewriters, and telephones. Even meats and wines are aged.

Whenever I get the chance to walk through a flea market or antique store, I feel the thrill of the hunt for pieces of Hawaiiana (Hawaiian antiques and collectibles). Recently I “rescued” a large piece of tapa (or kapa), a Polynesian cloth made from tree bark and painted with plant dyes, lying on a tarp at a flea market.

We survey our homes and collections of vintage things and smile, but we furrow our brows when we look in the mirror and see our own vintage peeking through. We dye our gray roots. We spend money on foods, vitamins, cosmetics, skin care products, and surgical procedures that slow down and reverse the signs of aging. We exercise to stay healthy, of course, but we also know it slows down the aging process.

Some of us don’t mind the gray in our hair or the laugh lines on our faces – they give us character and reinforce our sense of individuality and self-confidence. It’s the dwindling of life energy that we abhor. It’s the wearing down of body parts that literally makes aging painful.

We have a shelf life on this planet. So rather than rail against the looks of our vintage, what if we surrender to it? What if we accept that our bodies will wear down and our energy will dwindle?

What if we look at vintage individuals the way we look at vintage things – as reminders of the past? Except vintage people aren’t silent, they’re living, breathing repositories of history overflowing with wisdom. What if we could appreciate vintage hair color, vintage skin, vintage posture, and vintage pace the way we appreciate the look and functioning of things distressed, weathered, and worn?

We could save all the money we spend on hair dye, makeup, cosmetic surgery, and anti-aging potions. More money to spend on vintage stuff. Just kidding. May you rock your vintage look. Aging gracefully is very attractive.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

Take Time to Smell the Roses

rombauer

Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

Today, Thursday September 22, 2016, is the first day of fall. The photo above is a split screen of a garden statue at a winery in Napa, California. The left side is a picture I took in May. The right side is a picture I took four days ago.

The pop of red in the garden was a welcome change to my eyes. Fall, with its cool weather and palette of warm vibrant colors, is my favorite season. The brown leaves that had already started to decay on the garden floor, however, made me feel a twinge of melancholy. It was yet another reminder of how quickly time – life – flies by. Another summer of precious memories has come to a close.

So, as this sweet statue reminds me every time I visit her, I take time to smell the roses. Unlike the bronze rose that the little girl in the statue holds, the roses in our lives don’t last forever. Life is beautiful, change is part of life, time is priceless, and every season brings its own gifts. Don’t wait to do the small but vital things, especially with the people you love most. Don’t agonize over letting things go and ending happy chapters of your life; new chapters and better versions of yourself are waiting to be discovered.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

Tortoises, Hares, and Empathy

Broken Ankle

Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

My adult daughter recently broke her ankle in a bicycling accident. She got a stainless steel plate and five screws surgically implanted into her leg. Now in a cast, she can’t walk or bear weight on her ankle for six weeks. Her orthopedist told her that even with physical therapy it will take about a year for her ankle to get back to normal.

Good friends rallied and got my daughter through her initial injury and surgery, and now I’m spending a few weeks with her to help her settle into her new reality. Before I leave, I hope we can figure out how she’ll get around her house and get back and forth to work by herself.

I have a theory that people are either tortoises or hares. I am a tortoise: slow and steady; evaluating a situation and creating an attack plan before I engage; methodical; analytical. My daughter is a hare: quick off the block; preferring to jump into a project and make adjustments as she goes; unconcerned with sizing up events as they unfold.

My daughter the hare misses being quick. Everything she does now takes so much longer than it used to.

My daughter the hare misses being fiercely independent. She now weighs the option of asking for help to get something done faster, or doing it by herself and taking twice as long to get it done.

Whether she’s on her crutches, on her scooter, or in a wheelchair cart at a store, my daughter the hare now moves slowly. I walk beside her or follow closely behind her and observe people’s reactions. Most people dart around her. Some people politely make room for her to pass. Some people make her wait while they finish whatever they’re doing before they let her go by.

My daughter the hare now gets tired because simple tasks are no longer effortless: getting in and out of the car; getting in and out of her house, office buildings, and stores; getting in and out of the shower; dressing herself.

My daughter the hare misses being outdoors, walking her dog, meeting friends for drinks, cooking, doing household chores, and all the other things she used to do quickly and easily.

Before her bicycling accident two weeks ago, my daughter the hare was running, hiking, and taking yoga classes several times a week in addition to working full-time and keeping a busy social schedule. My daughter the hare misses exercising her body.

I won’t sugarcoat my daughter’s situation. It sucks. It’s painful to watch her struggle through simple things like bathing and navigating the stairs in her home on crutches. It makes me ashamed to see people look inconvenienced by my daughter’s slowness because I’m sure I’ve had that look on my face when I’ve encountered a slow moving wheelchair as I’m rushing. It makes me want to cry to see the beginnings of depression lurking around my happy and energetic little hare. I can feel her frustration and her growing sense of isolation.

With every setback and bit of suffering that comes into our lives, we have the opportunity to grow. Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is something we can develop with each experience. As difficult as it is for my daughter, young, healthy, and fit, to adjust to living with her broken ankle, my heart aches for anyone with mobility issues who is older or in poor health. My daughter’s ankle will heal. Not everyone with mobility issues has the hope of walking unassisted again.

So the next time you see someone moving in the slow lane of life, please practice your empathetic skills. Be thankful for your ability to get around quickly and painlessly. Think about how long it took and how hard it was for that person slowing you down to get where you are now. Think about how lonely and isolating it feels for them to see people moving in the fast lane of the world as they get left behind.

This tortoise mom will notice, and she’ll be grateful. Someone else might be smiling at you as well. If God has to be either a tortoise or a hare, I’d put Him in the tortoise column. God is forever. He’s in no hurry. Which lane do you think He’s moving in?

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.