Saying Goodbye

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Death is our most constant companion, a threat, a fate, an inevitability we dodge, cheat, avoid, and dance with on a daily basis. The ancient Greeks believed in a group they called the fates, three women who decided the length of our lives on the day of our birth. As we travel the tortuous path of our life we each see the lives of friends, family and acquaintances come to a close. Sometimes accidental, sometimes disease, sometimes acts of violence, sometimes aging, sometimes a combination of several causes, but always bringing us to the point of finding a way to say goodbye.

It is rare to have the opportunity to bid farewell while the recipient of the blessing is aware of our comment. In the course of nature’s way, we find ourselves with a painful hole in our emotions where a dear person once dwelt. A few decades ago my father told me one of the worst things about growing older was seeing the circle of friends shrink as the years passed. I have observed the truth of this observation, and along the way have developed an understanding of why so many senior citizens seem to carry a burden of sadness; a burden shadowing their smiles and laughter. We enter the world to be greeted by the warmth and love of our mother and father, but we leave the world alone, venturing into the unknown on our own.

The belief in a life after death is a common thread in human history, regardless of race, religion, or creed. While each of us has our own reasons for believing or not believing, the hope that something good awaits us can be a comfort when we are saying goodbye to someone dear to us. My father is 96 years old and in failing health. I remember when he came home from the Korean War with a medical discharge, and a prognosis of 6 months to live. Obviously he proved the doctors wrong, and survived kidney disease (one removed), heart disease (multiple bypass), and a few more additional scrapes to live a full life of hunting, fishing, and working as a detective. He has led an active life, including acting as care giver to my mother as she spent almost two decades sinking beneath the sad tides of Alzheimer’s until she at last surrendered.

It is difficult to see the slow decline as my father has lost the use of his hands, his sight, and his ability to walk. It is painful to see him unable to take care of himself, yet unable to find his way to that final slumber he prays for each day. A long productive life is a blessing beyond measure, but a long life which offers only pain and suffering, both physical and emotional, is heart wrenching. I grew up in the knowledge that my father might not be there at any time; prepared to scatter his ashes over the land and water he loved. Our paths have separated us for most of my adult life, my careers taking me on my own journey, making our time together limited to a few days each year, and each of those visits ending in tears for us both, knowing it might be our last parting. I have said goodbye many times, but I know how much it will hurt when my brother, who is caring for my father, calls to tell me he has begun his journey into the unknown that awaits us all.

As I plan my next visit, I can’t help wondering if it will be our last; wondering if he will still be there when I arrive. It weighs heavy on my heart, even after a lifetime of preparation; one more member of my circle of friends who will no longer be with me when I say my last goodbye to him.

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Saying Aloha

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As a writer, it is always an interesting challenge to learn the literal meaning of the words chosen to express a circumstance. The Hawaiian word aloha is used in many ways, but the literal translation is incredibly spiritual. My friend Alex Pua’a, a Hawaiian of great knowledge of the island culture, explained that the literal meaning is “be in the breath of life”.

When you consider the literal meaning of the word, the translation into English terms easily can become hello, goodbye, or I love you. But there is another facet to aloha, the spirit of aloha. This is the good will of the heart, the sharing of food, the sharing of well being, the sharing of human kindness.

As I have written previously, I am departing my home in the islands of aloha and returning to the mainland. This parting, this saying aloha, is a happy and sad passing from one phase of my life into the next. The people of Maui opened their arms and their hearts to me, sharing aloha from the moment I set foot on their shore. I will miss them, but at heart I am a traveler, an explorer, one who searches for what lies over the next hill or around the next turn. A lifetime spent here would not make it possible to learn all there is to know about this unique archipelago, for like all places, it changes each day. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not.

My next stop is Reno, Nevada, where a long and storied history lies waiting for me to discover. While I gather my belongings and pack them into boxes, I treasure the memories of each item, warmed by the provenance of where each began and how it came to me. My grandfather’s duck decoys, hand carved, refinished by my father, passed to me. My great grandmother’s sugar bowl with a ring of spoons from my mother’s sterling silver. Paintings and drawings done by Gale, the love who helped me come to Maui and whose ashes are scattered here. The redwood burl bowls created by my grandfather. The original sculpture created by my friend Pat McGowan, the pottery of my buddy Jolyon Hofsted. The gifts of dragons from Kathy, who filled my heart with joy and whose ashes are scattered upon the roads at Lahaina.

My journey continues, the final destination being the same as awaits us all, but while I am still able to travel, I have once again set my feet upon the path to the future. I can’t wait to see what awaits me over the next hill, or around the turn.

A Moving Experience

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Twenty five years ago I left California and settled on Maui. Without describing the financial and personal disasters leading up to this move, I’ll just say I sold everything and packed our belongings into 14 pieces of luggage and took a one way flight to this paradise in the Pacific.

Maui was a truly magical place; spiritual, beautiful, welcoming, and blessed with an amazing climate. The last vestiges of territorial Maui remained when I arrived, but large hotels already occupied much of Lahaina and Wailea. At the same time, mom and pop businesses flourished, local food was the rule, hula shows were frequent, and the roads were ideal for the adventuresome traveler who wasn’t in a great hurry.

The island remains unique and magical in many ways, but big box stores have pushed aside the mom and pop establishments, four lane divided highways cross the island, and houses now grow where pineapple and sugar cane once flourished. It is still one of the most beautiful places on the planet, but for me it has become a place of bittersweet memories. I have bid final farewell to two incredible ladies who shared my life here, victims of incurable cancers. I have found peace and solace here, but I also find myself dreaming a starting again in a place far away.

In the manner of things, I have lost my place of residence to circumstances not of my making. I have lived in the same place since the day after AI first set foot on the island, part of the extended family of my landlords, who now have need of the space I occupy. I believe life has a way of telling you when it is time to make a change. This is one of those times. I have considered moving to a location on the mainland for the last couple years. It turns out I have a job waiting for me to arrive. Message received.

This time I will have a bit more to move, but unlike my last move, my job is waiting for me. I arrived on Maui in less fortunate circumstances. We arrived without a place to live, without a car to drive, without a place to work, without any money, and without any cares. Maui embraced us and life was good. This time I will have a place to live, a place to work, and money in the bank when I arrive in a new place that is opening it’s arms to take me in.

Moving is always a somewhat traumatic experience, but it is also an opportunity for catharsis, self analysis, and closure. It is a time of deciding what you will no longer cling to, what you simply cannot let go, and the adventure of learning a new place, meeting new people, and savoring the memory of people who are no longer among us.

Like the next chapter in a book, the next chapter of my life is being printed upon the page as my footprints find their way through new territory.

Word Pictures

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Envisioning the story is the most basic building block for all story tellers, whether the story is a factual retelling or a fantasy occurring in the mind of the author. People, time, and place all create a framework from which to hang the elements of the tale. Creating an image of the location in the mind of the audience is an exciting challenge, regardless of the objective of story.

The adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ now comes to mind. How many words does it take to draw a picture in the mind of the listener or reader? Do you wax eloquent, using paragraphs and pages to bring elaborate detail or do you think more poetically and beautifully brief? For example, the title Snow Falling on Cedars immediately paints a picture. The picture will be different for everyone, but nonetheless clear in their mind’s eye.

For Shadow Ballet I chose a location I often visited as a child. My memories are filled with days spent on the beach with my Nana, brother, and cousins. Describing the sweeping grandeur of the location required a couple sentences, but then was fleshed out by the interaction of the characters. The geology and geography is the result of tectonic plates at the northern end of the San Andreas fault, the ebb and flow of the great glaciers, and the influences and impact of the weather.

The rise and fall of ocean levels has created the lagoons, building barriers of sand and gravel to trap the water of small streams and in two instances, mix it with the briny waters of the Pacific Ocean. The water is relatively shallow, usually cold enough to make a fine habitat for salmon and steelhead. Of the two brackish lagoons, only Big Lagoon has been developed with housing. The wonderful thing about creating a story in a familiar place is that you are free to play with the details. For instance, while there are several small cabins atop the bluff, I tinkered with the placement and architecture, and then added a non-existent street and houses behind them as well as a campground on the east shore. I tried to remain true to the climate, the forest, the beach, and the character of the towns whose names I used, but took whatever liberties felt correct to build my story.

There are many ways to describe a setting and all are good. I try to create a living picture with my descriptions. In closing, I offer a brief passage about the ending of day.

Lengthening shadows reached out to pull the blanket of night across the land.