Thursday, November 10, 2011


I still have this t-shirt, though I haven't worn it in years.

My life has been shaped so much by my early years. The street I grew up on, Pueohala Place, was originally owned entirely by a single family, the Mortensens, and their approach to living has greatly influenced my own. The original house, which at one point was the only house on the street, is still there. It was built closer to the beach and then at some point in time before I was born it was moved mauka (towards the mountains) and two new homes were built makai (towards the ocean). Eventually, the street was split up and 5 more single family homes were built behind the front 3, one of which my father impulsively selected because it allowed a view from the kitchen into the family room so my mother could cook while keeping an eye on us.

The Mortensen family became a part of our existence, Dolly, David, and their three children, Dayna, Katie and Kavika. Their door was never locked. I could borrow a surfboard any time. I played basketball in their driveway whenever I felt like it. I could always count on David to have a smile and a joke for me, to loan out a tool, to teach me how to use it, or to just take the stress of life away with his gigantic heart. Hawaii is the land of lingering and when you have Hawaiian blood and a familiy history rooted in the islands, you have a responsibility to give your time away to anyone who wants it, regardless of where you are or what you are doing. The street that feeds into Pueohala Place, named North Kalaheo, used to back up with 3-5 cars every now and then because the driver had stopped in the middle of the lane to talk to a friend or relative walking on the side of the street. Nobody honks in that situation. You just wait it out and let the conversation finish.

Life lessons don't always sink in so well at that age. In retrospect, I don't think I realized what an example that was for me. The Mortensens had no riches, no "things" of substantial value, but they were rich in life and love. They sold the land they once owned, and kept only 2 of the 8 houses for themselves, keeping only what they really needed. They befriended everyone on the street, even us haoles from the mainland, and treated all of the kids the same, with even handed, overflowing acceptance even though we all did our share of idiotic things.

Life was fairly simple for those early years. I went to school, that was my job, and until 6th or 7th grade it really wasn't that terrifying. Public school in particular wasn't particuarly challenging, Hawaii ranks 50th in the nation in public schools, so up until 4th grade when I switched to a private school my efforts and intensity revolved around weekends spent on the tennis court. My entire world was a 5x1 kilometer rectangle from Oneawa to the beach, between Kuulei and Kainui. It has taken me years to realize exactly how privileged that childhood really was. Not privileged in the sense of extravagent wealth, but privileges in the sense of extravagent freedom. It seemed so normal at the time, kind of like how when you're standing on a peak and looking at an incredible view, you don't realize how expansive your perspective is compared to those in the valley below. You can only see from one place at a time, just as you can only grow up once.

Samadhi, at least my current concept of it, warped in my western-rooted mind, seems very much like how I remember my early years. A 2 minute walk took me to one of the most beautiful beaches in the state if not the world, safe, clean, uncrowded, with warm water and just-right waves for a kid to play around in, get tossed upside down, but not worry too much about drowning. My childhood started off with pure sentiment, feeling instead of thinking, before there was any need to understand or analyze. I felt spiritual moments out in that water, long before we took a pair of canoes out to spread my mother's ashes in the very same water. I would sometimes fall asleep in my bed at night as a kid and instantly return to the feeling of floating and rocking on my board, just past the break. The exhaustion from 3 or 4 hours of paddling around, catching waves, running, jumping, and just being must have left left a permanent imprint on my consciousness. Life spent at the beach, at the neighbor's, riding bikes up/down the street, climbing in the ironwood trees, digging up insects, and exploring outside was pure freedom. There were no bills. There were no deadlines. I was never too cold or too hot.

Inevitably, life gets more complicated as we grow up. We accumulate items and scars, we form complex relationships with all sorts of people. My sister is now seeing that for the first time in her own children, how the endless joy of naieve optimism gives way to more complicated, more calculated thoughts as a child reaches past diapers, through the challenges of walking and talking, and begins to take the first steps on the flight of self awareness.

I think one of the reasons I've allowed myself to be open to new challenges is based on knowing that my happy place is still there. Kailua hasn't changed much at all, every time I go back I confirm that. I think I've always assumed that if my life turned into a complete failure, if I lost all that I valued, if I had no friends and nothing left to care about, all I needed was a one way ticket home and the willingness to work enough to pay for food and shelter and my life would be just perfect. Ironically, I honestly believe I would prpobably be happier if I did that today, but I won't allow myself to take the easy way, to give up on myself just yet. I love my life so much here, I love what I've created and what I've stumbled into. I love my friends, I love my dog. I love my neighbors who are the modern, San Diego version of the Mortensens.

So, for now, I keep stacking weight on myself, unsure if I can or will be able to shoulder the burden indefinitely, but aware that if I break, if I fall apart completely, I've always known exactly where to go. If that breaking point arrives, I know that happiness will be waiting for me on the other end. That belief alone carries me through so many of the challenges I seek. That belief allows me to reach past my own doubts and insecurities and attempt to cultivate proficiency. I know that I'll be able to retreat into the comfort of a known world if I fail, and that allows me to attempt to improve without worrying so much about the final outcome.

1 comment:

  1. I wish everyone could see how rich life really can be without "things". Love that you grew up with this.