Monday, May 30, 2011

Thank you Veterans

My two best friends joined the army right out of high school. The first sentence of the first letter that my friend Eddie wrote to me requested that I go to the Army Recruiting office and tell those two recruiters that they are dead meat. I tried to join the Army right about the same time. I failed the physical.

Military recruiters came to my high school and talked real slick. One of them put his hand on my shoulder and oozed his spiel to me, asking how it would feel to tell my dad that I would pay for my own college tuition. I don’t know if that is why I tried to join up or if it was that I wanted to follow my friends. I corrected what made me fail the physical. But Eddie’s letter made me have second thoughts. Then when my other friend Danny wrote a poetic description of being exposed to tear gas as part of basic training I solidified my thoughts.
After I graduated college I was confused and directionless. Iraq invaded Kuwait and Operation Desert Shield commenced. I tried to join the military again. The recruiters were delighted to have a college graduate and assured me that of course I could work for the Armed Forces Radio Network. I retook the written aptitude test and they liked me even more. The recruiters began to talk like car dealers with “What can we arrange so that you will commit today?” kind of talk. That alarmed me but I didn’t care. I didn’t know what else to do with my life. I was sick of delivering pizzas. I took the physical again. They found out that I had recently had asthmatic bronchitis. I failed the physical again.

Today I’m thinking about all the fighting men and women who are out there today and all the ones who have served and those who lost their lives that we honor today. They all made a decision. Maybe some of them wanted to pay for college and maybe some of them were trying to escape from something. I’ll guess many didn’t fully know what they were getting into. Still many others must have loved their country and wanted to serve it. I don’t know how many were drafted into service. But they made the decision to serve their country too. Even if it was an unwilling service they were there and did their job.

I’m thinking that even the superpatriots were just folks like my friends and me. They walked into the induction center and knew at least a little bit of what they were leaving behind and what could be ahead of them. However senseless some of us might think that any of these armed conflicts can be, I’m glad that we set this day aside to remember our brothers and sisters who went into them and lost their lives. I can’t thank them personally. But we all can remember their families. And we can honor their memory by thanking our living veterans today.

Thank you veterans.

Monday, May 23, 2011

One Last Pefect Day

If you’re familiar with the longest running half hour sitcom on television you know how the children behave in the backseat on a ride in the car. It’s only an exaggerated version of how most children act or just want to act. But when I think about it,, who hasn’t wanted to speak out over the course of a long trip either by car, bus or airplane and just repeat over and over: “Are we there yet?” with the mentality that this incantation might hasten your arrival.

I think that a lot of people are unsatisfied with the world and their life. They want this long trip to just end already. They have the knowledge that taking their own life is wrong but many of them may be so unhappy and disconnected that they just want to go to heaven and be with God. I can see how the prospect of the world ending in a Biblical way is appealing. If God came and fetched all His children home them there would be less sorrow and missing loved ones back on this imperfect planet.

Most believers and non-believers agreed that the world would not end on Saturday. Christians know what the Bible says and does not say. And science says that the world has millennia left. The accepted scientific theory says that thousands of years from now we will have one last perfect day. Our sun will be just right and normal one last day. But we won’t notice it when it happens because after that the sun will begin to change over a period of millions of years. Theory says it will swell into a red giant star and swallow the inner planets, possibly including Earth. Even if Earth isn’t devoured, life would have been exterminated by its star’s change. The oceans would be gone and atmosphere would long have escaped. But not to worry, says science. We will not even notice the change for millions of years after that one last perfect day.

I’m glad science allows us this last day where the sun shines just right. Even as I write this the sky is grey and rainy outside. But what is preventing me from having if not a perfect day that at least a good day where I can say at the end that I fought a good fight? Granted I can think of a few days in my life where by the end I wanted the world to end. But most days I have the power to live like it’s that one last perfect day. I can do my best to have a positive attitude and avoid words and actions that I might regret.

When I was 8 or 9 years old living in Lahaina there were four houses across the street scheduled for demolition in order to build condominiums. Three of the houses were homes for bohemian transients. And old Japanese couple lived in the last one. Every day Mister Tomura would be out in his yard taking care of it. I watched him rake leaves, a chore I hated and wondered why he bothered. The world of that house and yard were ending. There was a set termination date. Why did he do that miserable chore when he didn’t have to? Mister Tomura might have enjoyed raking. Or he might have just taken the pride in his yard to the point that he wanted it to look good up until the end. Either way, he was creating for his little world one last perfect day.

Not only did Mister Tomura accomplish this but he made an impression on me that I’m writing about 35 years later. I’ve never forgotten that courage and will to make a difference where he could. It’s not in anyone’s power to say when the world will end. What is in my power to do today and do I have the courage and will to make a difference?

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Recital

This last Saturday the 14th of May I attended a piano recital. I am blessed with a job where I can bend my hours around important events like this and was able to break away for a short while. I arrived with just minutes before the start time and children were still warming up. After a warm greeting and prayer by the instructor the recital began.

I think that there is an expected format to determine the order of students at a recital. The newest and youngest students went first. Most of the early pieces were simple songs out of piano textbooks. The little pieces lasted only half a minute with the child determinedly traipsing through it. The young boys often pounded a steady fortissimo. Others brushed the keys like an artist. Soon I noticed the same thing at the end of every performance. Sometimes there was a smile. But always at the end the child sighed or showed some visible relaxation at the end.

James Harriot who wrote All Creatures Great and Small and several subsequent novels wrote a chapter about his son’s piano recital where he describes it as an anxious torment that the parents suffer collectively. As much as I love his writing and that work in particular I completely disagree with his assessment. I’m sure several parents were anxious watching their children. Maybe it’s my experience of years of piano recitals that helped me or maybe I was nervous but it was drowned in the pride I felt in the kid’s performances. I think we have a great piano teacher. One of the reasons is that each of the children showed joy in what they did. If you saw that you couldn’t help but feel proud of them. Sure mistakes were made. But every child felt joy, even if it only came out in the relaxed sigh at the end.

My 12 year old daughter played a piece after her first year of lessons. Here was when I tried to stifle my unrealistic feelings that I have the sweetest little girl in the world. I was very proud of her.

Soon the tone of the recital changed. We were not listening to easy pieces composed for beginners. Now there were students who choose more difficult works. Finally there were two pieces left to play. My son, Harrison came up and played a sonata. I cannot measure the awe and pride I had then. I can only marvel at how easy he makes music look. Last of all another young man came up and played his violin while Harrison accompanied him. It was the best piece of music I had ever heard at a recital.

I drove back to work shortly after the recital ended feeling high on the blessings that God gives me. I hope each parent felt the joy we all shared that day.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Dedication

May 11th of last year is when I began this blog with an entry titled Navel Gazing. I think I’ve held to that title well. I wasn’t sure about how often I would write or what the post’s length and content would be. Starting out I tried to write every day. I had some good topics too but most of the entries are pretty short. I finally settled into posting once a week. I can spend the week considering my topic and then get up Monday morning and write it out.

I have advised other writers this: Just like dance like nobody’s watching and sing like nobody’s listening, that a writer should write like nobody’s reading. I have heard compelling arguments to the contrary, but for most of my life I try to convince myself that I don’t give a rat’s sphincter about what other people think of me. And that’s pretty wrong too.

When I was growing up at my most socially awkward I made deliberate attempts to set myself apart and even be dislikeable. I wore two watches on the same wrist so I would be the weird kid. I played baseball left handed so I couldn’t throw well. But it wasn’t that I didn’t care. I was attempting to take a little control over what people thought. If others didn’t like me and if I hit the back of my head with a baseball once when I threw it then it was because of something I did not anyone else. I was in control of what other people thought.

Early in college I scoffed at young men my age who were fashionable. I kept myself disheveled and thought that it was putting the image that I didn’t care what other people thought. If I really didn’t care I would have worn Birkenstocks® instead of engineer boots.

And if I really didn’t care what anyone thought of my writing then I wouldn’t post it here on blogger and link it to facebook. I would get up and write and then save it to a disc and then go about my day in satisfaction. But I post it and link it and then go about my day wondering if anyone read it. The bare truth is I really care that other people read this. I’m able to track pageviews for this and when I see them I’m just a little bit thrilled.

So if you are reading this, thanks. Over the year I have written about family members, old friends and a few topical issues. I wrote a lot about my past too. I wrote about my past on this post just to set up this point. Thank you for clicking on the link and taking time out of your day to see what I’ve written about. Today it’s you, the reader. Over the past year your reading has encouraged me. You, the reader are important to me. Thank you.

Monday, May 2, 2011

red shirts, red faces, and overdue love

On Tuesdays in the fourth grade I would wear my Scotty shirt. This T-shirt had a Star Trek engineering insignia and was bright red. It started one Tuesday when I was walking along through Malu Ulu Olele Park during morning recess. I heard a car horn and looked to see my mom waving as she drove my in our orange 1976 Subaru wagon. I smiled and waved back. In the cold cruel world of the fourth grade I felt warmth. I saw my mom. In my home full of love, I loved her most.

That afternoon if I had been doing homework she would have found some hand-sewing to do in my room while I struggled with math. She told me that she spotted my red shirt as she drove by to her Tuesday women’s meeting. It was a weekly meeting so from then on every Tuesday I wore that shirt. Every Tuesday I looked forward to morning recess. I stood at a fence by Front Street and watched for my mom to drive by. She would beep the horn and we would both wave. It could be the highlight of my school day.

Two years later I sat in the sixth grade classroom. It was morning and some kind of teaching or lecture may have been happening. Out the window I saw my mom. My heart pounded once. She was headed into the school grounds. Moments later she was at the classroom door. The class fell silent. My mom looked to me and held up a quarter, the price of a school lunch. I felt the quarter in my pocket and told her I had my lunch money. She said “Oh, okay,” and left. I looked down at my desk and wanted to disappear.

I don’t remember how or even if I communicated my feelings to my mom that day. Looking at the little incident now I can understand how that might embarrass a sixth grader. But as I thought about this the other day and tried to form it into a blog post I realized something else. At first I thought that my mom considered me going without lunch worse than a little embarrassment. She may have mulled it over and the idea of her son skipping lunch was a worst case scenario. But I recently thought of something else. She thought her son had forgotten his lunch money. This was the same little boy who asked her to sing to him at bedtime years back. The same boy she had a smile for regardless of how she felt. He was same little boy who wore a red shirt that she ironed a Star Trek logo onto and waved at her every Tuesday. He needed his lunch money and that was all. There was no problem taking him a quarter.

An eleven year old shouldn’t be embarrassed at the sight of his mom stepping into the classroom. But at that terribly awkward age it just sometimes is that way. Now this Mother’s Day it doesn’t matter that this happened 33 years ago and she may have forgotten. I want to thank my mom for bringing me that quarter and give her a hug.