The other night, to be a good sport and to help my boss, I participated in an Aikido demonstration. We were invited by a gentleman who has been a key figure in the future of our school.
One of the many reasons I love living in Hawaii is the possibility of experiencing the vast blend of cultures in the only U.S. state composed entirely of islands, a sparkling jewel in the vast Pacific.
Aikido is a modern Japanese martial art. My husband drove me to a Buddhist temple in Honolulu, I offered other participants my true calling in life — comic relief — and after the demonstration, in true Hawaiian tradition, talked story over heavy pupus (appetizers).
The gentleman who had invited me to the event is a third-generation American of Japanese heritage. He introduced me to the master teacher, like me a white middle-aged man from the Mainland, then to a master elder teacher from India, other participants whose parents or grandparents came from countries thousands of miles away to settle in Hawaii, and finally, to my pupus companion, a second-generation older man whose parents left the Philippines to work on a plantation on the Big Island before moving to Honolulu.
He had a soft voice, melancholic eyes, and a gentle manner that instantly made me feel very comfortable engaging in Talk Story. He told me he had taken up Aikido to cope with his PTSD from the Vietnam War, how he started practicing after raising his two children, how this Aikido community that meets in a building owned by a Buddhist temple on a busy street next to a highway in Honolulu has become his second home.
Then he asked how I came to Hawaii.
I told him I moved here from a Quaker boarding school in Iowa with my family, that I had three job interviews over the phone, was made an offer, and accepted.
“Boy, you got lucky,” he said. “You found a job without moving here first.”
He was right.
It’s time, Dear Readers, to resolve the Vienna – Hawaii Cliffhanger that I’ve promised in my Teaching Moment posts these past few weeks.
Here’s the short version: I was a terrified kid in my very early 20s who was offered a Fulbright Teaching Assistantship in two schools about 40 miles south of Vienna, Austria. One of the schools was in a monastery.
I was fleeing the difficulty of growing up gay in the ’70s and ’80s, Ronald Reagan, and the unknown, terrifying, and dark mystery that back then was AIDS. Teaching and living in a monastery on a village hillside in Austria with a lovely farm and quiet monks, staying celibate, and praying a lot seemed safe.
I’ll post about the monastic experience soon. But I need to finally finish the cliffhanger.
I left the monastery after visiting the Mother Church in Vienna and seeing the big city with wide open eyes. The Fulbright people were good to me and extended my assistantship to two years. I studied translating at the University of Vienna and worked as a roof gardener. Then I found a job as a speechwriter at the Japanese Embassy in Vienna.
After a few years, I was given the opportunity to fly around the world if I were chaperone to a teenager just five years younger than I. Everything would be paid for.
I have a tremendous fear of flying. I avoid airplanes. I don’t read about them. If I see them on television, I usually leave the room. But I knew back then this would be the opportunity of a lifetime.
My bosses at the Embassy let me take all my vacation for the year for this flight that included stops in the Seychelles, Sinagpore, Japan, Hawaii, Los Angeles, Toronto, Amsterdam, and back to Vienna — all in 30 days. The stop in Hawaii was for a third of the trip.
The teenager and I stayed at the YMCA in Honolulu the entire time for $12 a night. I entered a small tennis tournament. To my astonishment, two young adults from Germany came up and started speaking German to me. I’ll never forget it. I said to them, in German, “You’ve never met me before. We’re in Hawaii and I’m speaking English to my friend. How did you know I spoke or even understood German?”
“We just knew,” they said.
But to keep a long story short: I never forgot Hawaii. A few decades, coming out of the closet, one divorce with a woman, a new marriage to a man, a young child, and several jobs in different cities later, I had a conversation with a friend at a Quaker boarding school in Iowa where my family and I lived and worked.
He remembered my telling him how much I loved Hawaii. He told me there was a job available. I told him the chances of my being offered the job and moving to Hawaii with my family were slim to none.
I was wrong.
One dark freezing evening a few months later, the phone rang as we were bundling up our baby daughter to join friends at a potluck dinner.
A month later I was setting up home in Hawaii. I’m still here and hope to be the rest of my life. All marathons, even those that last decades, are worth it.