Tom and I were walking through Hilo this morning, after our cup of coffee at his favorite coffee shop. He asked me what I had learned in the two days that I have been here. For those of you that know Tom, you know that one of his gifts is pulling information and thoughts from you. It would have been very easy for him to tell me what I was experiencing. But that is not the kind of teacher he is.
So here, maybe more for me than for those who might read this are some thoughts and impressions from my first two days in Hawaii.
To my knowledge, I haven’t seen a single tourist. By walking to and through town, I smell the flowers; experience the rain on my skin and in my hair. This is not the place for blow dryers and makeup. Light rain, and then few minutes later the sun is out. We walk over bridges and stop to see the water coursing over the rocks. We have spotted a few turtles swimming in the calm water at the foot of the falls. Thick jungle right in the middle of town.
I’ve walked on lava. I’ve seen the plume of smoke and flare of fire from a volcano that has killed, and will surely kill and destroy again. The sun was setting, clouds in the sky tinted with yellow, orange, and purple. Black lava as far as I could see, I wondered if this is what the surface of the moon looks like, hard, barren, surrealist shapes silhouetted against the sky.
When I turned around, and we walked back towards the road, bright green, red and gold lights were flickering between the palm trees. The lights were strung around top of a simple bar, with no walls and no doors. Nine bar stools, a few were occupied by men enjoying the Monday evening. We could hear music close by. Tom asked if it was a private party? We were told that it was, but we were welcome.
We sat a picnic bench in front of a garage at the end of a road, the volcano within site. Dogs and children played around us. A sound system was set up, and we listened to native music performed by incredibly talented natives. The audience? Uncle Ralph, the patriarch of the clan. He sat in a golf cart, his skin almost as dark and craggy as the lava field a few yards away. A middle aged woman, several teen age boys and girls. Perhaps eight little girls and boys under the age of 10 were scattered in the yard.
Gabriel arrived a few minutes after we did, the only other Caucasian in the group. Tom of course immediately asked for his name and engaged him in conversation. Gabriel was originally from St. Louis, had bounced around, a few years here, a few years there. He looked at a map a few years ago, decided he wanted to live in Hawaii, and here he was. He works in a grocery store a mile up the road.
When we ate, the teenagers were next to us. They laughed and chatted, obviously happy to be there. I couldn’t help but wonder what some of the teenagers would have been doing on a Monday evening in Little Rock. Plugged in by ear buds to music on iPods, on the computer, watching TV, playing video games? Would they have been happy to be with family, listening to folk music and just talking?
The open walled garage was painted white, and decorated with street signs and prints of Jesus. The smell of food wafted on the breeze, the Christmas lights of the bar were within site. Music. Dirt under my feet. Another world.
Earlier, I had walked through a jungle, orchids brushing against my hair as we followed a narrow path. We crawled through a hole into a cone shaped lava cave. I’m not kidding, a lava cave. A natural steam room in the middle of the jungle. We sat on wood planks fashioned into benches on the lava rocks. I look up through a small hole at the top of the hot lava walls and could see the blue sky. Two days before I was in Little Rock, Arkansas. It is almost more than I can comprehend
We went to a park, with coves and lagoons for swimming. You’ve heard that expression “sink or swim”? Tom handed me a snorkel mask and jumped into the water. It took me a little more time because, yet again, I was walking on lava rocks. I was being very very careful as I walked. Once in the the water I put the mask on. Or I thought I did.
Ummm….about snorkeling. My last experience was very brief, and in Cancun about 15 years ago. Needless to say I didn’t know what I was doing. It is a pretty simple concept, obviously, but I still managed to screw it up.
So picture this. I’m in the water, Tom is already swimming around saying “look at that one it’s huge!” and I’m still trying to get the mask on. I ducked my head under water and just about drowned. Thankfully I could still stand up. Tom pointed out that the mask was supposed to go over my nose. Oh.
Got the mask on correctly, and again put my head under water. Right there in front of me was a humongous turtle. Did you know you can hyperventilate underwater with a face mask and snorkel? Did you know it is not fun?
All I could think about when I saw the turtle a foot away from me was, does it have teeth? Does it bite?
It drifted away. Tom was like a little kid, pointing out more turtles, each bigger than the previous one, or at least that is what he said. I was still adjusting to the snorkeling thing, but I did manage to swim around and follow a couple of the turtles.
Coffee this morning. While Tom was on the phone I talked to Jas. Strikingly beautiful blue eyes with dark skin and hair, and a smile that light up the shop when we walk in. She is 26 and works two jobs. She lives a very simple life, as many in Hilo seem to do. In her free time she surfs. She named all of the beaches, her face and voice animated. Work and surfing. I thought about her counterparts in Little Rock. Work and …what? Kids? Clubs? What kind of car to buy? How do I step up the corporate ladder?
Tom and I talked on the way back. We talked about Jas. There is a part of me that admires those that find joy in simple, that find joy in nature and just being. I’m drawn to the concept of escape from the world as I know it. I’m drawing peace and strength from the air and water and soil of this place.
But I also know that I would become bored and restless. I have work to do. I’m still trying to process what that work is, but I know that I want to leave some type of footprint on this planet when I’m gone. Tom Callos is leaving not just one footprint, but many. My UBBT team members are doing life changing work. Brian, Rori, Gary, Joe, Dan, John, the list goes on and on.
Lately I’ve become very aware of the passage of time. My body may be edging towards the 52 year mark, but I don’t feel old. Well, at least not very often. But I am becoming more cognizant of the fact that I am very probably past my half way mark of time on this planet. Am I being egotistical to think that I might actually be able to teach, inspire and motivate in some small way? Am I going to follow a comfortable routine, safe and dependable? Am I going to take a few leaps, knowing I could soar, or fall flat on my face?
I want to leave a footprint when I’m gone. It may have a couple of face plant impressions around it, but I want there to be a footprint to show that I have been here.