Jammin’

Facebook reminds me that two years ago today, we went mulberry picking along the Tsurumi River under the brave leadership of the inestimable Rodger Sono.

Well, to be honest, Rochi went mulberry picking. I sat under a tree and rested, but when we got home, I made jam, some of the best jam I have ever tasted.

(Rodger later asked me if I’d taken the time to remove the stems. “Nah. Too much trouble. I just bunged the whole mess into the blender and it came out great.” Trade secret, that.)

Looking back through old Facebook entries trying to find that picture brought back a lot of memories, some nice and some not so nice. It’s funny how we can forget the things we don’t want to remember and focus on the good. At least, I hope that’s where 2017 left me. My PT in Tokyo, Dr. Joey, said he’d seen two types of cancer survivors. Some are bitter and angry and just waiting for recurrence. Others are like me: Let it go. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Not everything is small stuff, but even the big stuff is only as big as you let it be, unless it’s a Mack truck about to run you over. That’s pretty big. But don’t waste your time worrying about Mack trucks either.

I watched an old episode of Cheers last night. A guy asks Coach the classic question: If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a noise? And Coach asks: If nobody is there to hear it, how do you know it fell?

Precisely. Why worry about something that doesn’t matter?

Yesterday I made jam again, my first since that day in 2017. This time it’s cranberry rhubarb, made with cranberries from a friend who had to empty out her freezer and fresh rhubarb from KTA supermarket, a rare treat I only found once in all my years in Tokyo. I jazzed it up with ginger and lemon zest and cardamom and cloves because it deserved no less.

I didn’t deserve to get cancer any more than I deserved to survive it, but I look at those two photos of jars of jam, different jars, different contents, different kitchen windows; so very different and yet so very much alike. And I look at me and the two years that passed between those two batches of jam and I wonder. Am I the same? Did the pain and strain and stress and damage make me a better person, a stronger person?

I really hope so.

So Be It

weird flower night

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.

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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.

ocean me