Everything I’ve Ever Wanted – Almost

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NeujahrAround this time last Saturday — just one week ago even though it already seems like last month — I was waiting anxiously in a hospital basement with my husband, our young daughter, and many others. Some of us, like me, were still in our pajamas.

We had been warned about a ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii and this was the real deal. About 20 minutes later, though, another message that appeared on our phones confirmed what most of us had been praying for: a false alarm.

A week has passed, and on my two-mile walk home from work, I pass two grand cemeteries, including the Royal Mausoleum of Hawaii. I have no fear of cemeteries. When I was very young, I bought a plot near my beloved grandparents, who had not yet died, in what was known then as the “German cemetery” behind the “German church” in a small mountain town in Pennsylvania settled by Bavarians. Everyone laughed a bit at that time. Now, decades later, a few of my cousins wish they had done the same.

I have always found cemeteries peaceful and fascinating, knowing they are filled with history. Every person who has a place in a cemetery has had a life, some long and fulfilling, others perhaps equally long but lived with some degree of disappointment.

I seldom let my mind go to what for me would be the most tragic stories in a cemetery: lives that ended way too soon and unfairly although it’s a given that life is not always fair.

Since leaving the hospital a week ago that became a temporary shelter for a few hundred people wondering if we were going to live another day, I’ve realized that if it were just me knowing that I had only a few more minutes left, I would be at peace.

For real? Yes. I’m middle aged, and I still have plenty of personal and professional goals, but along with the inevitable lows that come with many hopes and dreams, I’ve also tasted the highs. In fact, I consider myself extremely blessed.

I want my daughter, though, her classmates in her elementary school, the students in the high school where my husband and I work, and for that matter all young people to have their chance.

I’ve decided last Saturday to be more mindful of ways I might be selfish, to be a better parent, friend, teacher and coach, to strive to give more even if I’m nudged out of my comfort zone. It’s a way to give back and to thank all the adults and young people — family, friends, role models (some of whom didn’t even know they were!) — for helping me navigate the intriguing, at times frustrating, but ultimately satisfying and always worthwhile marathon of life I’ve been privileged to live.

 

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Perfect Timing

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Ruckmann-by Kubota!Since I moved to Hawaii four years ago, a state so breathtakingly beautiful that I’m still in disbelief every morning I wake up here, I’ve noticed a repeated pattern that must have a deeper meaning beyond anything I’ve ever heard or read about: when I look at a clock — at home, work, anywhere — the time is often precisely on the hour or half hour.

It happens when I wake out of deep sleep and check the time: it’s 2 or 4 or 5 a.m. It happens when I’m at work, look at my computer, and see 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. When I am home in the evening with my family and decide it is time to eat, it’s 6 or 7 p.m.

Rarely when I check is the time not to the hour or half hour, say 5:17 or 11:12, for example.

I’ve never owned a watch nor an alarm clock. Friends at college could not figure out how I never missed a morning class.

I come from generations of farmers. In their honor, I greet the day before the sun or rain do. I sleep when it’s dark. I try to live simply, not turn on a light unless I absolutely have to. When I lived in a monastery, the monks used to say that we arose at 4 a.m. so our prayers would be heard before the world was filled with noise.

But until I moved to Hawaii, I never experienced the phenomenon of time almost standing still on the hour or half hour. It’s almost like I’m in a movie where a greater than life message is being imparted to me.

Only that I don’t know what that message is.

Dear Readers, could any of you share your wisdom about what this could be?

Alarmed

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AlertWell, Saturday sure has been eventful!

Around 6 a.m.

My husband and I teach our seven-year-old daughter not to stand in front of the refrigerator demanding cookies for breakfast. A few minutes later, I tell her she can turn on all the lights in the house when she is able to pay the electric bill. We mix in lessons about patience and gratitude for our modest but comfortable house, for the joys of a weekend, for her hula class in a few hours, for the YMCA down the road that has become our second home.

Around 7 a.m.

I start to write my blog post for the day as my daughter plays in her room and my husband, a teacher, starts to write letters of recommendation for his college-bound students. I make tentative plans to run a few miles to my office to get ahead with my work before joining my family at the Y.

Around 8 a.m.

Life changes rapidly. My husband receives an alert on his phone about a ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. My phone has the same message. Quickly we check the local news. Nothing. Finally, on PBS Hawai‘i, we find the warning. All this happens within two minutes. We hear our neighbor yelling. My husband and our neighbor head for the car. Unshaven, I throw off my pajamas and throw on a shirt and shorts. I pick up my bewildered seven-year-old daughter. She loses a sandal. I try to retrieve it but my husband and neighbor are in the car and tell me there is no time.

We head for a hospital a mile away, park, run in, and take an elevator one floor below with a long waiting ramp that leads toward the medical radiation treatment area. We are joined by patients, hospital personnel, and residents of Honolulu, old and young, frightened but also friendly. We reassure each other. People check their phones for the latest news. I need to find a bathroom but wonder if it is worth leaving my family. I decide to take the risk for a few minutes, wondering what the impact of a ballistic missile would feel like. I tell my family I love them. I wish, in our rush, that I had grabbed my grandfather’s rosary.

Around 8:30

I come back to my family. I ask my husband to text a friend who is well informed about security in emergencies like this. Miraculously, the friend writes us back twice: the first time, he does not know what is going on, then, about five minutes later, his news helps us all breathe easier. A half hour has passed. We let our neighbor and our sudden friends at the hospital know we are safe. Our phones tell us the statewide alert was a false alarm. We head home with our neighbor.

Around 9:30

Our daughter is dressed for hula. I’ve shaven. We’re ready for the Y. My husband tells me I need to change the theme of my blog post for today. I try three times to call my mother on the Mainland but cannot reach her.

Around 10

We see our friends from hula. One of them tells us her sister and mother had run to their garage that morning, lay on the floor, and sobbed uncontrollably for about 15 minutes. The wonderful manager at the Y tells us about the concrete-fortified basement with enough food for five days. I shake his hand and breathe better knowing that the Y will be our new destination if we ever receive another alert like we had just a few hours ago.

Around 11

Halfway to my outdoor running goal of 4 miles, I reach my favorite large tree. I hug it. On the way to it, I take a little extra time to say hello to people.

Around 11:30

Nearly back at the Y, I stop at a cupcake shop I had always passed by. The family who owns it — a mother, father, and two young sons — open up to me that when they received the alert they held each other, said “I love you,” and then opened their business. We make a point of saying our names to each other. I let them know that I work right up the street and will visit again soon.

Around Noon

I need more running time. As I finish a few more miles, I watch the news on the treadmill screen. I learn that the alert was sent after an employee at the State Department of Defense and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency pressed the wrong button.

Around 1

We head home. Our daughter still has school assignments. My husband and I still need to catch up on work and laundry.

Around 3:30

I finish this post. We’re headed for the grocery store. I’m left wondering if this had happened in another state, would people take to the streets, say enough is enough of having a sense, since the last presidential election, that we’re on a slippery road on a high cliff and with much luck have not yet driven off.

Yet.

We’re pretty laid back in Hawaii. I’ve noticed people being kinder to each other and a few more hugs than usual at the Y, but in many ways it’s another warm Saturday afternoon, grateful for a few uneventful hours.

Airbrushing

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Several years ago when I was in my late 20s, my boss gave me a picture of her mother-in-law to use for a promotion piece. The prominent philanthropist in the photo looked lovely and authentic. But the picture seemed dated. I asked my boss if she were sure this was the correct photo.

“Oh yes,” she said. “My mother-in-law decided that after a certain point in her life she would have no new photos used of her.”

I’m not quite there! I still qualify for middle age in many ways, and sometimes feel younger than I did in my 30s.

FamilieBut this year, for the first time for our holiday card, I begged my husband to have it retouched. Seriously. My hair was great, and since we moved to Hawaii, nicely bleached by the sun when it dries as I sweat profusely during long training runs for marathons.

But my neck — yeesh! The corners of my eyes — a nice tiny nest of fine wrinkles.

Considering all the tennis I’ve played and marathons I’ve run — 21 to be exact — not too bad. I’m a Quaker, so I shouldn’t be vain.

But I still begged my husband. He told me if we had additional work done to the photo, the card would be late, too late for his comfort. I gave in.

I’m proud of the photo because I’m proud of my family. I’d like to say I’m proud of my “rugged” skin, and in some ways I am, but one of my holiday presents was a tube of organic anti-aging sea algae serum that cost less than two large pizzas. I’m making my peace with the reality untouched photos convey. A little sea algae serum, though, goes a long way!

Soft Landings and Glühwein

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MarathonTag!The first week of January.

Resolutions have been made.

My husband, battling a bad cold, gave me three glorious days on the North Shore on Oahu, the most relaxed I’ve been since I moved to Hawaii almost four years ago.

So why did I want a soft landing this week?

Because for most of these four years I’ve readjusted expectations and hopes, letting many go but finding new goals and discovering beliefs I have wanted to sow.

I’ve also spent many, many hours in the office and other places to establish a solid work record with a new job in a completely new part of the world to my family, to find communities on an island where many people come from families related to each other or who have known each other for generations, to stay in shape, to be a better father and husband, to write better poems, to be an advocate for my daughter.

And after nearly four years in Hawaii, heading to the North Shore for the New Year’s long weekend, I was kaputt!

And thanks to my husband, I came back to the first week in January feeling better than I have since we made Hawaii our (permanent) home.

I couldn’t extend the stay on the North Shore, so I practiced gratitude and strove to be mindful of my resolutions for 2018.

And prayed for a soft landing to the return of deadlines, to familiar landmines that are part of one’s day, to needing to be out the door at prescribed hours seven days a week.

And treated myself to just a little Glühwein, part of my heritage and comfort during winter days — not the bitter cold days most folks are facing on the Mainland, but even for Hawaii days still a little darker and colder. Glühen in English means “glow.” As a Quaker, I try to hold my family, friends and myself in the Light. A little glow helps.

I wish all of you, Dear Readers, much Light, soft landings, and a little glow for the new year!

 

My Resolutions for 2018

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Neujahr1) Spending more time with my family

2) Staying healthy

3) Training for a few more fun marathons

4) Making advances toward obtaining professional licensing in my career

5) Being a more conscientious friend to my friends

6) Publishing a few more poems

7) Playing the bassoon again

8) Practicing gratitude

I’m sure there are others, but after a few nourishing days of being away from the familiar, comforting, but mildly numbing daily routines that make up 90 percent of my year, the above goals keep resurfacing in my brain.

What are some your resolutions, Dear Readers? Please share!

 

 

Handbells

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On a table draped in white carefully placed handbells wait
like the audience in the Buddhist social hall
gathered on Christmas Eve morning,
surprised by a concert when many only expected
conversations they’ve heard for years in this oasis
of traditions from Japan brought to Hawaii and kept safe
by ministers who look after older congregants
passing memories to each other and to children
whose parents wondered why this performance
was not yet underway. But then she came:
Noriko Ishii, her long black hair as bold in flight
as the bells she grasped, glancing now and then
at her hands, the bells shaking in resonant chords
as we held our breath, at first startled
and then inspired, wanting more sound
to penetrate a lazy morning before Christmas
that Noriko changed. Now jarred and hopeful,
the crescendo reached, we left and waited
that evening to hear echoes of ringing like Noriko
chasing after bells and not letting go.

By Rüdiger Rückmann
Written on 26 December 2017

Why #21 Was Improbable

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MarathonTag!Two Sundays ago, my husband and I crossed the finish line together of the Honolulu Marathon, hand in hand, taking in the vastness and noise of thousands and thousands of fellow marathoners and spectators.

Music was playing everywhere, beautiful medals and shell necklaces were draped around our necks, recovery food and drink was behind an enclosed area for the runners along with their finishers’ shirts and souvenir merchandise to purchase for memories back home in Hawaii, the Mainland, or Asia.

For Ben, who had a stroke out of nowhere three years ago at age 41, it was a triumph of discipline and dedication that helped him move out of disbelief and mild depression to commitment to fitness that helped him lose 60 pounds.

For me, it was marathon #20, not bad for a guy who has loved sports his entire life, but grew up gay in an era when he was usually the last one picked for teams at his high school. Back then, sports and being gay were not a natural match for most people. It was fine for me to win awards for writing poetry, but for me to be a bona fide athlete was not within the realm of possibility back then for my classmates and even some of my own family. I’m glad I never took heed.

For Ben and me as a couple, it was a celebration of 15 years together with all its highs and lows. We ran the marathon to raise money for a school that promotes inclusion, diversity, and opportunities for students to develop their courage to nurture peace.

On Monday, Ben and I wore our finishers’ shirts and, along with a student marathoner, were applauded at our school assembly. Our legs hurt, but we took our daughter to the YMCA and walked on the treadmill for a few miles.

On Thursday, I called a new friend whom I met last summer. Kawika organizes and manages Hawaii Kai Ultra Run events where you pick your distance: a half marathon, 30K, full marathon, 50K, 50 miles, 100K, 100 miles. Times are official and recognized by distance running associations, but the races are really more about personal challenges and camaraderie than winning awards (although receiving finishers’ certificates and medals always feels great!). I ran my 19th marathon last July in Hawaii Kai, one of the best experiences of my life. I didn’t commit to running a marathon for a second weekend in a row, but it was fun to ponder doing so.

On Friday, I joined a two-hour training session at work in an office scented with candles and other fragrances that are pleasant but make it hard for me to breathe. Wanting to be a good sport, I didn’t mention my allergies. In the afternoon, I attended a great holiday party with my workmates. I told Ben I had made peace with not running another marathon for a while.

On Saturday, I couldn’t breathe. My throat hurt. But I persuaded Ben to drive out to Hawaii Kai. I visited with Kawika who was helping runners. You can choose a Saturday or Sunday for Hawaii Kai Ultra Run events. I made a faint promise to return on Sunday.

On Sunday at 6 a.m., I woke up with a fever of 101. But my throat felt better. I asked Ben how much time I had to make a decision. He gave me two hours.

At 8 a.m. we started driving. My fever had gone down to 98.7. I promised Ben and our daughter that if I started to feel unusually tired, I would stop. I hugged them both and asked them to enjoy holiday activities. I would call.

At 8:45, I started a marathon.

A few hours later, I made up my mind, sort of. I convinced myself that I would be just fine finishing a half marathon and leaving it at that, receiving a nice certificate for 13.1 miles, enjoying the afternoon with my family, getting good sleep, and telling a few friends the next day that I was proud of finishing a half. I went to the finishers’ tent. I talked to Kawika. He persuaded me to try one more 3.3-mile loop. I did. Then I realized I had completed over 16 miles. I drank more water. I took another mustard packet for cramps.

I met wonderful people on the course who encouraged me which was extremely kind given that about 40 people had signed up for this event and all but Kawika, a young man who had also run the Honolulu Marathon the Sunday last, and I were the only runners on this Sunday. The other 37 athletes all ran on Saturday.

I’ve never been part of an official race with only three people, but the loops through a neighborhood that belongs in a movie set with stunning mountains still green in an Hawaii December with gentle inclines and families taking time while looking after their children to applaud us was heaven.

I’m a Quaker. I love seeking silence. This felt right to me. And it was.

Hawaii Kai Ultra RunAt 3:15, I finished. I sprinted to the runners’ tent. Kawika raised his arms. I raised mine. We hugged. And then talked story, a Hawaii tradition.

Kawika had also finished his marathon. While I completed #21, he has finished more than 200.

My husband and daughter came to pack me in the car. My temperature had gone up again to 100, but I felt great. Later that night, cramps set in, but I was fine. Today, if someone were to ask me to do another marathon this weekend, I would.

But I won’t. I want to spend more time being a father, playing the bassoon, giving my husband time to pursue goals that on paper don’t make sense.

Only that gently stretching personal limits can be a lot of fun.