It’s almost impossible to write when my emotions are turned inside out. While the world is percolating with disease and bitterness, there is no sweeter air than the air I am breathing this moment. The setting sun casts a pink glow on the pineapple fronds I see in my very own garden while birds chant their contentment.
This morning, I lay on my yoga mat with my eyes closed feeling calm and composed. When I opened them, my breath was sucked out of my lungs and up into a sky so clear and blue that I let out a sound I had never made before. At that moment, I realized I had invented a new emotion, a joy so pure that it nearly lifted me off my mat. But it was a joy blended with a sorrow so profound that it could have sucked me down through my mat into the depths of the ancient volcano that pulses and breathes beneath us.
I had created a sobgiggle.
Learning to live with joy is just as hard as learning to live with grief but it is a learning process that gives form and meaning to life. I am grateful for it.
Today, August 4, 2019, marks the one year anniversary of our move to the Big Island of Hawaii. I look back on the past year with wonder and awe: the things we’ve seen, the people we’ve met, the new sights and sounds and tastes and genuine sense of aloha all come together to assure me, again and again, that we made the right choice.
Just the other day, we were walking through a parking lot and a rogue palm frond launched itself toward Rochi’s head. It missed, fortunately, and before you could say Kamehameha, a man had jumped out of his car and two other people came running from shops in the strip mall, all intent on capturing the offending frond and making sure Rochi hadn’t been decapitated. I was relieved, of course, and also deeply moved.
Later that same afternoon, we stopped by a friend’s place because we’re chicken-sitting while they’re back on the mainland. One chicken was roosting when I entered the coop and she gave me a fierce scolding fortified with a flurry of flapping wings and angry clucking. I could only smile and make my apologies. Two of the eggs I collected from the nests were still warm. I felt their warmth radiate from my palm directly to my heart. There’s an experience I never had in Japan, or anyplace else for that matter.
There have been so many new experiences that it’s hard to list them all and impossible to rank them in order of wonderment. – I bought a car, learned to drive it and got a Hawaii driver’s license, in that order.
– We both took on, and conquered, the taiko drum…until it conquered us. But we were not too proud to admit defeat and took some valuable friendships with us when we left. – I worked on costumes for the Kamehameha School’s production of Hairspray and then the U of Hawaii production of Rent, making more friends along the way and being grateful that my life experience came together in a way that made those experiences possible. – I started to establish a credit rating even though I’m not sure I need one and took on the American medical establishment, which I wish I didn’t need, but not every day is rainbows and unicorns. – I took a class in basic maintenance at the community college and learned a lot, earning along the way a renewed sense of empowerment, a very nice wooden tool box and more lovely friends.
We’ve been to mountains and beaches and farmer’s markets and craft fairs. Food adventures are myriad, from the 85 year old Dutch Chinese man who brings us avocados and soursops to the barefoot hippies who harvest organic honey destined to sweeten my tea to Sunday breakfast and Friday night fish fry at the VFW to tomatoes and peppers and beans and pineapples and lemons and lemongrass all growing in our garden before my eyes as my fingers type these words. Just thinking about this bounty makes me smile, maybe even gloat a little.
It’s been a momentous year, challenging and exuberant and hard and thrilling in turn but all bringing out the best in us and helping us see the best in others.
In the costume shop at the University of Hawaii, I spent a couple of hours helping my friend Lee sew a gazillion yards of frou-frou onto a ballgown to be worn by a drag queen in a runway show in Honolulu.
I did this for several reasons. 1) I like Lee. 2) I like outrageous sewing projects. 3) Never in a month of blue moon Sundays would it have occurred to me that I would one day type that sentence, but I am overcome with delight and gratitude that I did.
Part of the process of packing up and leaving Tokyo was taking the time to see friends and say goodbye. We had an open house for work friends, a karaoke afternoon. I made dates for lunches and coffees and walks.
One of the nicest get-togethers was dinner with my twin sister Jay (we have the same birthday). Jay is a fascinating person, a lawyer who has trekked many of the world’s miles and soaked in many of its onsen, done volunteer work in Fukushima, taken pictures that could fill the walls of a museum and its corridors with fascinated visitors.
We chose a quiet restaurant and an early reservation, hoping for some peace, but as it turned out, waves of other diners came and went. The staff had to ask us to leave when the restaurant was closing. Jay has a way of asking questions and listening to responses that makes you feel like you are the most interesting person in the universe and every word that finds its way out of your mouth is important and worth remembering. We sat there for five hours and there was never a lag in the conversation. I felt a heavy pang of sadness when it had to end.
I miss my Tokyo people, the relationships built over months and years, but we’re making new friends here: the costumer, the yoga teacher, the earth mother, the Canadian, the cowboy poet, the Keepers of the Hens and Scrabble experts. They’re pretty great people, all unique and interesting in their own ways.
A really dumb rhyme I learned in Girl Scouts keeps running through my head.
Make new friends but keep the old One is silver and the other gold
We’ve just completed the seventh month of our residence here in paradise. I still don’t know what we’re doing. I had set myself a goal of six months to settle in, get my ducks (or nenes) in a row, figure out where we’re going from here. Instead, I find myself completely clueless. I admit to being overwhelmed, unable to process the array of new places and people and experiences flooding my life. To illustrate, in the past week, I….
…ate blue eggs…
…made some new friends…
…performed taiko drumming onstage at the University of Hawaii…
…sat in on an improvisational singalong…
…ran into some beautiful faces at Foodland…
…saw orchids bloom in my garden…
…had a mammogram in English… …attended a drumming workshop… …took part in a gratitude circle… …had a girls’ night out in Pahoa… …started a new exercise regimen… …and played a hang drum.
That’s a lot.
The thing is, living in Tokyo, sometimes months went by and nothing interesting happened. Now something wonderful happens almost every day.
The key to this magic, I have discovered, is opening myself up to what could be instead of sitting on memories and waiting for magic to walk through the door. It almost never does.
I am overwhelmed, delighted, grateful and very, very aware of how lucky I am.
Our first performance with Puna Taiko was at the Baptist Ministries Luau at the University of Hawaii in January. Our drummers are mostly varying shades of brown so it really struck me when I looked out at the audience and saw a lot of cream cheese faces. I know there are black and Asian Baptists, but they didn’t turn up for the luau. Those who did, though, were warm and welcoming. It was a good experience.
Today, we had our second performance, this time for the New Year’s party at Hongwanji Buddhist Temple in Keaau, which is also our home base. I looked out over the faces and realized there were very few white ones. Those that did appear were definitely not cream cheese; the congregation is nearly all second or more generation Japanese and mostly elderly. I am certainly used to being the only white face in a sea of Asian ones, but it felt very odd that only Reverend Tomioka and Rochi and I can speak Japanese. Still, the audience seemed to enjoy the performance and the food was genuine Japanese and very good. Plus I won one of the centerpieces in the raffle, an elegant Ikebana arrangement of exotic flowers in a Naval Academy mug. Perfect.
We still make an awful lot of mistakes, but given time I know we will improve. To that end, our relationships with our fellow drummers are developing nicely. Like the Baptists, they are warm and welcoming and some of the sweetest kids I’ve ever know. We’d like to adopt the whole bunch, at least in theory. Finding ourselves so far from family and friends intensifies the warmth we see in their eyes and gives it a depth of meaning that is hard to describe.
Drumming is challenging but fun and I’m learning how to accompany on the fue flute. In fact, we will be attending a fue and shakuhachi seminar in Hilo next week before our third performance, which will be at the International Students Days at the U of Hawaii. After us, there’s a lineup of performers from Palau, Kiribati, India and Fiji, among others. I am looking forward to it.
Looking back through this post, I see a LOT of words I never thought I’d type. I am honored, humbled and grateful to be able to type them.
I am living my bucket list. Who could ask for more than that?
I woke up this morning, the day after Christmas, with an urge to watch bears eating honey. It has been my experience that it’s best to scratch such itches before they fester, so I consulted my pal Youtube, who kindly obliged with a video of two large black bears laying siege to a wooden beehive.
The narration was a smooth baritone in the gentle, insinuating style employed by public broadcasters worldwide. I don’t know what the dude was saying because it was in German, but I did catch the words “Fort Knox” as the bears continued to assault the box. They worked themselves into a honey-scented frenzy despite the stinging objections of the bees. The battle turned when they used brute strength to tear the roof off the hutch. They yanked out the trays of honeycomb and scraped through the soft wax with their powerful claws; their pointed snouts and pink tongues became coated with golden, sticky nectar. The final narration said “fur dei beenen, (something-something) enden, fur die bearen, (something-something) fest mas laden”, which I think means “bees: zero, bears: one”, as the sugar-charged bears trotted back into the woods, their beady eyes rolling in absolute pleasure.
We spent Christmas eve with new friends, especially Paul, our taiko drumming teacher, and members of his extended family. Or not. There were two kids there so all the adults were called Uncle or Auntie but in Hawaii that doesn’t necessarily mean anyone’s related. At any rate, it felt like family, people who knew each other well and were very comfortable together and willing to welcome strangers to their fold.
We stuffed ourselves with Hawaiian bounty and then Auntie Susie said we had to stay for The Ball Game.
The Ball Game turned out to be a ball of Saran wrap and a pair of dice. You play the game by trying to peel off the layers of plastic wrap while the person to your left rolls the dice. As soon as they get doubles, you pass the ball to them and they pass the dice to their left. As sheets of plastic dropped away, a surprising assortment of treats were revealed, and whoever managed to free them got to keep them. It started with candies and soon escalated to packets of instant ramen, dollar bills, shopping bags, baseball caps, dryer balls, bottles of hot sauce, gift cards. It was a cornucopia, such a simple idea but so much fun, way better than any dumb old pinata.
The winner was the one who made it to the center of the ball to discover a Tupperware full of pretzels and $20. Technically, Paul’s daughter Emily won, but I think I did better, scoring both a Lord of the Rings baseball cap and a Dairy Queen gift card.
If you’ve ever watched in helpless horror as the plastic slips off the edge of the box and attaches itself to the roll, you know how strongly Saran wrap likes to cling to itself. So the game took a while, everyone shouting and laughing as we tore at the plastic, our attack less violent than the Siege of the Beehive, but our pleasure just as real.
Christmas day we stayed home, opened presents (I received a jar of Wililaiki Christmasberry honey and didn’t have to fight off a single bee), ate a lot (not turkey; there’s no way we could top November’s Thanksmas celebration), tried to stay awake to watch the Grinch on TV, and were generally rather smug about how lucky we are.
And that was our first Christmas on American soil in the past three decades. So far our new life is off to a great start. And we’re going to do our darndest to keep it up with relentless curiosity, goodwill, humor, open hearts and open minds…and honey, sweet golden liquid, Hawaiian sunshine in a jar, the scent of heaven and the taste of love.
I have started a collection of mismatched china plates. The first member of this soon-to-be budding coterie was discovered at the Goodwill store in Hilo lying under a thin layer of dust behind a broken toaster and a one-eyed Raggedy Ann.
Isn’t she lovely? Her refined elegance is marred by a small chip on her back but her spirit still shines through and she has not once spilled my baked beans onto the floor.
In the beauty of a chipped china plate, I see the beauty of life. I have learned that we are the reflection of what we have done with our lives. Most of us are tarnished, chipped, maybe a bit blurry. Along the road to arriving here, we have earned our wrinkles, gray hair, scars, aches and confusions. Rather than seeing these things as the ravages of time, I like to think of them as proof that I have lived, proof that I have not sat in a tower behind a locked door, watching the soldiers march past. I have more than once taken that frightening first step into the unknown and experienced again and again the joy of discovery, the universality of the human heart, and the magnificent release of laughter.
I love the feel of a nice china plate, but hate the idea of having a full set of matching china. If one plate gets broken, the set is diminished. On the other hand, if none of the plates match and one gets broken, nobody but the broken plate will be any the wiser and none will be diminished by the loss. The mismatched horde remains strong, not trying to be anything more than what it is, and every member is valued for its intrinsic uniqueness.
To celebrate what is either the ultimate in wisdom or a foolish naivety–honestly I don’t care which it is–I am gratefully accepting donations to the collection. With luck, I will have enough mismatched plates to host a dinner party by the time our hedge has grown enough to give us some privacy.
So if you want to be rid of your mismatched bits, please feel free to send them on. And if you could be so kind as to send them by UPS, I would be eternally grateful.
At Kamehameha High School the other day, I was helping a very nice young man with his costume for the upcoming production of Hairspray. He asked me, “May I call you Auntie Eda?” I wrinkled my nose and asked him back, “Must you?”
When I first met my sister-in-law, I found that she had instructed her two daughters to call me Auntie Eda. “Heavens no,” said I, sounding a great deal like an Auntie. “Aunt Eda if you must, but just Eda will do nicely.” I was still in my 20’s after all, not at all ready to wrap myself in a shawl and settle into a rocking chair.
Along those lines, I was once at Sears with my mother. I was about 16 but looked younger. Ma was shopping for a fridge. I knew she wouldn’t buy one with an ice maker, so I wandered off to see what the washing machines were up to. A sales clerk approached. “May I help you, ma’am?”
MA’AM???? My head filled with visions of myself barefoot and pregnant, dropping out of high school, moving into a double wide with black velvet paintings and Barbie dolls in ball gowns used as toilet paper covers. I backed away from the man slowly, hoping he hadn’t really noticed me.
So the nice young man’s question brought back haunting memories, but he went on to explain that Auntie is a term of endearment and respect. I felt my heart do that Grinch thing as years of training, assumption and bias melted away. I suddenly completely sure that it is OK to be who I am, or even better than OK. It is exactly, perfectly just how it should be, right now, right here.
I don’t know if happy is the right word for how I feel. I think it’s more like vastly content, or a vast deal more than content, to misquote Jane Austen. You can always want something more, something different, something bigger or smaller or cheaper or more expensive. Or you can be satisfied, pleased and grateful for what you’ve got.
Case in point: That’s my car on the left, L’il Six. It is absolutely all the car I could possibly want right now. The pink truck on the right, on the other hand, is a concept I can barely get my head around, but I bet it makes its owner happy.
Big car, little car. It’s all a matter of perspective.
For reasons I cannot explain, I was drawn into the garden. Perhaps it was the intoxicating smell that wended its way through the window and wound itself around my head. It could have been the sound of fairy chuckles barely audible above the chirps of coqui frogs. My willpower was subdued. I had not choice but to follow my own footsteps out the door. Under the shining stars I leaned forward to fill my lungs with a scent that countless fashion houses had attempted–and failed–to copy. I peered inside this anomaly of nature and saw tiny white pistils like the teeth of piranhas or sharks yet soft, welcoming, daring me to nudge them with an inquisitive fingertip.
And then I found myself falling…falling…falling. I fell past Alice’s lacy pantaloons, past the White Rabbit’s tufted tail, deeper and deeper into a time and place that does not exist. Down was up. Yesterday was tomorrow. It was neither good nor bad; it just was.
Somewhere around the end of 2016, I had fallen down a similar chasm, dissociated myself from that truth on a fundamental level, the only level left when the impossible becomes possible and the ability to process truth is lost, so I told myself I didn’t have to. All I had to do was keep moving forward. And so I did. One foot in front of the other. Plod from Monday to Tuesday, from January to February, from winter to spring to summer to fall and back to winter again. I bought a house in Hawaii. We packed. We said good-bye.
As I am slowly emerging from the fog, we are trying to make the transition from being visitors to being locals. So far, it still feels like we are on vacation, staying in a borrowed house, just waiting for the owners to come back and politely ask us to leave. We have not yet accepted that we live here. We will not have to empty the fridge and give back the keys. We will not have to return the car that isn’t rented. We will not have to go back to the airport until any of the hundreds of people who threatened to visit actually do.
In the meantime, we search for our place. We went to a community celebration of Queen Liliuokalani’s 180th birthday in Hilo yesterday. There was a lot of singing and ukulele playing (which I will learn to like…maybe), a taiko drum performance (which is why we went) and a mass hula dance, a showcase of a dozen hula schools which included a lot of cute little girls and one chubby grump of a boy.
It reminded me–and didn’t–of my own small town childhood. While we had no purple hula dresses or seed bead necklaces or sacred leaf leis, we did have doting families and grave seriousness given to performances that only those families could appreciate. It gave me a wonderful feeling of belonging, realizing that those sentiments are universal.
Feeling buoyed, we went to the Hilo farmers’ market, where a man selling coffee asked if we were visitor or locals because we “had a local look”. I guess you start to look different when you aren’t wondering if one more string of puka shells will fit in your suitcase or whether that jar of honey will survive the gorillas in baggage handling. I smiled and said, “Locals, but only recently.” And he replied, “I’ve been here 10 years now. I still wake up every day and look out the window and think how great it is that I live in paradise.” I do that, every single morning. I wake up earlier than I want to because my subconscious wants to see the rising sun peeking through the trees behind our house, wants to smell the early morning wisps of sea breeze that make it this far upcountry, wants to hear the coqui frogs closing up shop and giving way to birdsong.
I am still in a fog most of the time; they say sometimes it never goes away. Once you’ve been faced with your own mortality, repeatedly, you start to see the world in a different way. Beyond the basic tenets of good manners, I’ve never cared much what other people think. Now I don’t care at all. Always with an awareness of consideration and compassion for others, I must make my way on my own terms. As the wise man said, “None of us are getting out of here alive.” I aim to make the best of life while I can. If that makes me selfish, so be it.
In the dusty corners of ancient history, a tow headed little girl lived in a big brick house five miles outside of Berlin, Pennsylvania. As of 2016, the town’s population was 2006. It was a nice place to live. I remember a bank or two, a hardware store, an A&P, lots of churches, the potato chip factory, lots of farmers. There was open space, air to breathe. My mother was the original organic farmer, growing food chemical-free in her garden. We got milk from an udder, not a plastic bottle, learned how to make butter. An old man down the road kept bees and brought us honeycomb. The air was clear and sweet. It was its own version of paradise and a very good place to be a little girl.
But there comes a time to move on. Through the vagaries of time and chance, the little girl found herself living in Tokyo, one of the most densely populated places on the planet.
If you look at UN statistics, Japan is only #39 on the list of world population densities. But don’t let statistics fool you. Japan may have a measly 335 people per square kilometer (ppsk) but remember that the entire country could fit into the area occupied by California, with maybe a couple of toes sticking off the end of the bed, and 75% of the land is beautiful but uninhabitable mountains. So 127 million souls are crammed into a few ocean side cities. For comparison, the population of the United States is only double that of Japan with a population density is 33 ppsk, mostly in the east and west although a few misguided souls straggled away from wagon trains in the late 19th century and ended up in Montana and Wyoming where they remain to this day, still wondering how they got there.
For the record, and since I know you were wondering, the most populous countries based on population vs. area are Monaco and Macau, but most of the people in those countries are either working in casinos or losing money in them so let’s leave them to it. Singapore, Hong Kong and Gibraltar follow closely on their heels, although perspective there depends on whether you ask the UN or the World Bank. Bahrain (#f6) is way up there, too, which surprises me. I feel like I’m constantly tripping people from China (#80, India is way more crowded at #28) but I’ve never met a single Bahranian, or at least none that admitted it. I have met several Montanans here in Hawaii, though, so I guess a few found their way out.
I had always thought of Berlin as a very small town and myself as something of a clod doodle for being from there, but now I find myself a resident of Pahoa, or to be more precise, I live five miles outside of Pahoa and the population has risen from 945 to 947 as of almost three weeks ago. Pahoa seems to be where many of the people who were at Woodstock ended up. There is organic farming out the wazoo. Honey is made by bees instead of bears. There are yoga classes at the community center, a serenity center, a yoga and meditation sanctuary. The air is clear and sweet.
The little girl, a little damaged but also a little stronger and certainly a little wiser, has learned that paradise is a state of mind, and she doesn’t mind one bit that she finds herself in this state, in every sense.