Wednesday, April 16, 2014

April


"Tomorrow is April." Many people reading this blog already know this phrase we used all the time back in Florence. The program ended in April, and saying it reminded us that time would slip away far too quickly. We needed to make the most of every moment because before we knew it, it would be April. It would be over.

The motto dictated a lot of the choices we made.

In October 2006, I debated booking a last-minute ticket to Rome to watch the Italian national team play in a friendly against Sweden. It was awfully expensive, and I was on a budget. But tomorrow is April. 

During midterms, I remember sitting in my room preparing for an upcoming exam. Some friends asked if I wanted to join them at the Triangle Bridge across from the Ponte Vecchio to drink some wine. I still had some studying to do. But tomorrow is April. 

In February, we finally walked into the fancy suit shop we had been eyeing all year. The Italian tailor excitedly fitted us with our "perfect suits," urging us to make the purchase. My mom will kill me for spending this much money on clothing, I told her. But tomorrow is April. 

On March 31, 2007, a huge group of us had a party in Piazza Santa Maria Novella. We ordered a giant cask of wine and celebrated the night away. Tomorrow was literally April. People were dancing in the streets, even jumping in the fountain. I didn't understand all the happiness. I had dreaded this moment all year, and now it was here. The next morning I woke up, hoping it wasn't true, but my watch confirmed it: 4/1/07. April was today. It was over.

But the strangest thing happened. The world didn't turn dark. The joy didn't expire. Even when I departed Europe later that month and returned to the U.S., the party continued. Sure, I missed Florence deeply, but the adventures, friendships, and beauty were still just as present as ever before.


This past Monday, I headed up to Mokuleia with some friends to catch the sunset and then watch the lunar eclipse. Out at Ka'ena Point, we watched giant albatross hover in the wind above us. Less than 100 yards out to sea, a couple humpback whales dove down, their huge tails breaking above the surface. The sun gave way to the stars, and then the moon.

Bright at first, a shadow started to overtake it, and the moon got smaller and smaller. At about 9 p.m., only a sliver of light remained. You could almost see the sun fighting to shine its last, dwindling light. It made me think about my time here in Hawaii. Within a few minutes, the last of the light disappeared.

But instead of vanishing, the moon turned a captivating shade of red. The stars grew brighter than ever before. I saw a shooting star flash over the ocean. Instead of darkness, the eclipse brought new light.

I never should have dreaded April. I won't dread July. I carry all the good things with me wherever I go. Love, joy, and wonder don't have an expiration date.




Thursday, February 13, 2014

It

The night before Super Bowl 48, I completed a ritual that I had been doing all season: I played the Seahawks' upcoming opponent on Madden. With the difficulty set at Pro, the second easiest level, I always routed the other team. I thought maybe doing this brought luck to the actual Hawks on Sundays. The strategy had only failed me three times all season.

I led the Seahawks to a 51-10 Super Bowl victory that night. The defense destroyed Peyton Manning and the offense made all the plays. Percy Harvin was unstoppable. The game cut to a darker version of Russell Wilson on stage hoisting the Lombardy Trophy. Wouldn't that be nice, I thought.

I'm a die-hard fan of the Seahawks, along with the Mariners, Gonzaga Basketball, and the Sonics when they still existed. But playing Madden allowed me to enter a different reality. A reality free of the hopelessness and despair caused by it. 

It is that deep, inherent knowledge that no matter what, we will always, inevitably, somehow end up losing. Come up just short. Game over.

It is cheering on the best regular season team in the history of baseball, then watch them roll over to the Yankees in the ALCS. It is looking on in awe one moment as your team pads a lead and prepares for the Elite Eight, and the next seeing your star player crumbled on the court crying as that lead vanishes. Heartbreak City. It is hopelessly looking on as the Sonics are stolen in broad daylight. It is jumping in elation after climbing back from a three score deficit in the fourth quarter to take the lead with 30 seconds left...then falling to the ground as a last second field goal ends your season. It sucks.

When you know that it is going to happen, you're never fully invested. Even in victory, you have to hold back just a bit. You can't push your level of joy to full throttle, because you're certain that things will eventually crash and burn. When it happens, the despair is so familiar, but it still burns.

As I watched Super Bowl 48, I prepared for it. Even after Percy Harvin sliced through Denver's special teams for a score to open the second half, the score now 29-0, I still had doubt. That touchdown wasn't a dagger. All it did was set an even grander stage for it to rear its ugly face. But Richard Sherman didn't feel the same way. Microphones caught him laughing after the play. "They don't got a chance," he said.

Even though the storyline favored Peyton Manning and the Bronco's offense,  the players on our team didn't really care about that narrative. The Broncos were a juggernaut, a Swiss Army Knife of weapons designed to pick apart any defense. But we were a tank. For four quarters, the Hawks steamrolled the Broncos as if they were playing on Madden with a low difficulty setting. It disappeared, no longer relevant, no longer inevitable. Nonexistent.

When the game ended, it wasn't there. I didn't really know how to feel. I'm still kind of figuring that out. But I do know now that a championship is possible. It is not some unstoppable force that shatters hopes and dreams. That honor goes to the Seahawk defense. Now I feel free. I don't think I'm the only one.



  



  

Monday, July 22, 2013

Glimpse

I'll never forget the first time I saw the ocean on the North Shore. Aly picked me up at the airport in the bright blue PT Cruiser we had rented for the week and we headed straight to Haleiwa. We climbed up through Wahiawa and began our descent through the arid pineapple fields, and there it was: a blue sea that stretched on forever. Good thing she was driving. My eyes were stuck. It would be another two hours until we actually got in the water, but my soul had already jumped in right then and there.


Hawaii has a way of taking your breath away at that first glimpse and then holding you in a warm embrace. And no matter how many times you see it, the feeling you get when you see the ocean is the exact same as the first time you saw it.

Back when I lived in Waialua and could walk to the beach, I'd go just about every day. I knew exactly what to expect in that little slice of paradise, but each time I strolled down the path and reached the open sand, the sight of the water made me stop. It still does. 

Today I went to the annual Art Festival in Haleiwa, where the better known artists of the North Shore gather to display their work. I went straight to the booth of my favorite artist, Heather Brown. To me, her paintings depict the North Shore exactly how I see it: bright and colorful, with a unique style and many different layers. But more importantly, most of her paintings capture that moment when you  step out onto the sand and get that first glimpse of the ocean, the one that makes you stop in your tracks and stare in awe.

The sand wraps around your toes, the trade winds kiss your cheeks, and the ocean welcomes you home. 

           Painting by Heather Brown

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. 

-Jacques Cousteau

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Voids



Rest in peace. You will be missed.

Lance Armstrong represented not just the American domination over a challenging foreign competition but also a new wave of domination over a challenging disease.  

Manti Te'o was an absolute warrior, humbled by tragedies that would make most of us crumble, but tough enough to flourish under so much pain.

These stories died Wednesday, Jaunary 16, following complications with credibility and overexposure to the facts. They leave behind their millions of fans and followers from across the country and around the globe. No memorial service is scheduled at this time.

Most of us knew that Lance had cheated. We're still not certain of what actually happened with the Manti Te'o girlfriend story, but at the very least, he misled us.

So why does this hurt so much? I used to think that I followed sports so intensely because it was an escape from the real world, a parallel universe that served as an instant break from stressful reality. The truth is that sports are not separate- they are a huge part of our lives all the time. So we desire more than just wins and losses, world records and tackles. We want stories as well, stories that transform our heroic athletes into incredible human beings. Stories like Armstrong's and Te'o's strengthen the connection of the race course and the gridiron to the nuances of everyday life.

Once we've connected our own lives to these stories, we'd much rather believe in them than lose them.

I recall being slightly suspicious of all the drug tests and allegations made by European journalists when Lance Armstrong was destroying the rest of the field in the Tour. But it didn't really phase me. This story, after all, wasn't just Lance winning races; it was also my dad and thousands of others winning their battles with cancer. 

I also recall a split second when I thought it was strange that I hadn't heard of anyone with connections to Lennay Kekua out here on Oahu. But I didn't think twice about it. This story wasn't just Manti racking up 12 tackles against Michigan State three days after finding out his girlfriend died; it was also all of us moving forward after losing someone and doing great things to honor them.

But these narratives are now gone. Instead of swimming in the inspiration and glory of these stories, we now get to drown in the aftermath of their demise. Out here we'll be talking nonstop about the fallacy of Manti's plight rather than the inspiration that he's provided for our keiki. I'll joke with my cycling friends about Armstrong's cheating ways rather than praise his LiveStrong foundation. In the end we'll all be left with an emptiness.

We'll look for other heroes who valiantly conquer the obstacles in front of them on the field and in their lives. We'll form a connection to their stories and they will help drive our lives forward. We can only hope that the facts check out.

I grabbed lunch with some coworkers just minutes after the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax story broke. As we drove back to work, I looked over at my friend John's LiveStrong bracelet. "I'm still wearing it," he said with conviction. We passed a local t-shirt shop, its windows still proudly decorated with Notre Dame #5 t-shirts, Hawaiian leis incorporated into the designs.

It might be too soon to cut ties with these stories. These voids are tough to fill.



Sunday, November 25, 2012

Edge


Clinging to a narrow ridge, 2,000 feet above a tragic end, I had nowhere to go. To my right was a vertical rock face, to my left a long drop. The narrow and unstable trail around the rock face had come to a dead end, and my only choice was to backtrack or lean back and climb over the rock.  I thought I could probably make the climb, but if I slipped, I would fall backwards all the way down to sea level. The wind was gusting. I felt the pounding of my heart in my fingertips. I began to lose it. It's funny how fast you can lose control. One minute you think you're good, and the next everything's spinning away from you.

Last April, Pollard and I attempted the first part of Pu'u Manamana, a hike that follows the narrow spine of a ridge in the mountains above Kaaawa in Windward Oahu. The views were stunning, but the hike turned into more of a climb along the narrow ridges that just kept going higher and higher above the Pacific Ocean. Pollard stopped to rest at one of the early peaks, and I decided to go a little further to see if it got any easier. It scared the heck out of me, but I loved the thrill. Every step mattered so much on a hike like this. The margin of error was almost nonexistent. Each move you made took the highest level of concentration and focus. I didn't make it too far. I paused at a steep mound of rocks that was surrounded by nothing but thousands of feet of air below on each side. I gave way to a group of military dudes coming up the trail behind me.

"You gonna keep going?" I asked.

"You're either AmeriCAN, or you're AmeriCAN'T," one of them replied.

I watched as they scaled the next peak, and the next, and the next. They got higher and higher. No way they're going to keep going up that way, I thought. But they did. Each peak they conquered was more dramatic than the last. Eventually they disappeared into the sky. I turned back and headed down to Pollard and we scrambled back to my car below.

I was a little relieved to be off of that ridge, but it left me wanting more. I had to be AmeriCAN.

Six months later, it was time to give Pu'u Manamana another shot. Matt Miller, my roommate from my year abroad in Florence, was in town visiting, and I figured he'd be a good person to bring along. We'd basically traveled the world together during the year abroad in Florence, and we'd been known face an adventure or two.

The first part was nice and wide, but the steep climb left us panting. Coming off a grueling work schedule and a long flight over the Pacific, Miller found himself in a cardiovascular hell. But he got stronger the further along we got.


Just like the last time, the trail kept getting narrower and narrower, and we found ourselves spending less time walking and more time crawling and climbing. Each time we scaled a peak, we saw a more daunting one hundreds of feet higher in the distance. Inevitably we would have to climb it.


We tried to break the tension with jokes and conversation during the especially nerve racking parts. But things started to get pretty quiet. I tried to zone out the steep drops on each side of me. But the blue sea and Lego-sized houses below kept catching my eye. I tried hard to quell the vertigo, but when I reached the dead end along that narrow ridge, I couldn't hold it back.

Miller is significantly taller than me, so he saw that the trail had expired before I did.

"Are you sure that's the way to go?" he asked.

"I don't know, man." I could hear the nervousness in my own voice.

I considered shimmying around that steep rock face, but there was really nothing to secure my feet. The odds of falling were too high. I could just turn and climb over the steep rock to the top, but it was at a bit of an angle where I would have to lean backwards, right back into the 2,000 foot drop. Backtracking was really the only option, but even that seemed too scary. Vertigo clouds your mind and numbs your body. The only thing I felt was an aching in my hands and a lump in my throat. I didn't know what to do. All I knew was that I wanted off of that ridge. I didn't know how, but I wanted out.

That wasn't an option. I took a sip from my Camelback and tried to nut up.

"Go back, go back!" I said. We cautiously backtracked to the beginning of the steep face, and sure enough, there was a small pink ribbon higher up the rock wall that marked the correct route. We slowly climbed the the peak. Whatever goes up must come down. The rock face dropped us back down to an actual trail, but it wasn't a gradual descent. It was a 15 foot vertical climb. The base was a very small perch of a trail that left little margin of error. Miller climbed down first. He had to take some time to negotiate the footholds...we quickly remembered that climbing up something was much more enjoyable than climbing down. He finally reached solid ground.

I knew it would be a different story for me. He pointed out the best spots to grab onto. "I got this," I said. But actually, I wasn't so sure. I made it down almost the whole thing, but then there wasn't anything left to put my foot in. I considered just jumping down the last 3 feet, but I would have to stick the landing like a gymnast. If I stumbled, I would stumble off the ledge. Desperate, I wrapped my left leg around the corner of the rock. There I finally found something to put my foot on. I secured my left foot, reached down for another rock to grab, and then dropped my right foot down onto the actually trail. I had made it.


The rest wasn't so bad. We kept getting higher and higher along a narrow ridge, but since it was deeper inland now, there was lots more vegetation. Trees and roots lined the trail, blocking the view of a potential fall and giving you something to grab onto. At some points the trail was covered in moss and roots, and it was actually pretty beautiful. We had a long way to go, but the worse was behind us.


The rest was a scramble down to Kahana Valley below. It got slick and muddy, and Miller described it best when he said we were like the Three Stooges on a hike. Slipping, sliding, and sore knees replaced the fear and vertigo. We finally dropped down to a final ridge. I found this last stretch difficult because it was back to high stakes hiking like before, but now my legs and ankles were shaking from fatigue. We gutted it out. When we were just about to the bottom of the trail, it started pouring rain. We hustled down the now wide trail, into a jungle with an eerie cemetery. The graves were overgrown and cracked from several decades of facing the elements. I thought it would have been more fitting to pass through the cemetery at the beginning of the hike, the graves foreshadowing those dangerous ridges above.


But maybe the end of the trail was the perfect location for those old crumbling graves. You got lucky this time, they whispered. We reached the road, leaving death behind us.


Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Flat



I was ready. I was set. It wasn't a race, but I wanted to fly. My bike was staged in the first wave of riders, the sun was finally coming up, and all my gear was ready. The MC sang Hawaii Pono'i. In no time at all, the gun would blast and we'd ride off towards the 50 mile turnaround in Kaaawa. I lifted my right leg over the seat and got ready hop on. Instinctively I pinched both tires one last time to make sure everything was ready to go. The front one was hard as a rock. The back one was flat. Again?!

It all started a week before. I was doing a training ride up on the North Shore on Farrington Highway, simply riding laps back and forth between Dillingham Ranch and Ka'ena Point. I love this route because the ocean is right in your face, and I can never get enough of the smell of the salty air.

When you've been riding bikes for a long time, you just know when your tire is low on air. You don't have to see it or touch it. You just feel it. Your bike slows just a touch, and you find yourself working just a little too hard to reach maximum speed. At first you deny it, blame it on the wind or tired legs, but eventually you stop, unclip, and feel your tire. Sure enough, it's got a leak.

It happened on the last lap that day. The wind was on my back but I was lagging. The back tire was halfway empty.

Four days later, with a brand new tube in place, I took my bike back to the same place to train some more. After parking my car and getting all my gear ready, I was just about to hop on when I noticed that my new back tire was once again flat. After a few choice words, I took out my spare tube and changed it once again, briefly checking for any sharp objects that might still be in place. This time, I figured, there was no way it would go flat.

Sure enough, the tire held up for the entire ride and for the rest of the week. I checked it every day to make sure it would be good to go on Saturday for the Honolulu Century Ride. I would bring along two extra tubes, but I figured I'd already paid my dues with two flats that week. There was no way it could go flat again.

But four days later, there I was, minutes from taking off for the century ride, with that same back tire flat once again. I was so upset I went numb. There wasn't even time to feel mad. This time I had to scramble. I ran my bike off to the side of the staging area, replaced the tube in about three minutes, and had it filled up and ready to go. I ran back to the staging area with my bike just as the last riders in my group were leaving. I was still a little flustered, but I was on my way. I couldn't figure out why that back tire kept going flat, but I figured there was no way that this bad luck could continue now that I was on my way.

The ride itself was a breeze. I felt pretty strong throughout. By the time I reached the 50 mile turnaround, I was confident that the second half wouldn't be too strenuous. I've had rides where the quads burn so bad that it takes every ounce of will just to pedal one more time, but this wasn't going to be one of those. It was a smooth ride.





At eighty miles out, though, I had that feeling again. That feeling where something was just a little bit off. At first I figured that my legs were beginning to give way. After all, 80 miles was the most I had ever gone before. Maybe I'd reached my limit. But in the back of my mind I knew exactly what was going on. It was happening yet again. I stopped, got off, and felt that back tire. Flat. Again. This time, I was so close. I pulled out a C02 cartridge, inflated the tire, and kept going. Faster than ever now, because I wanted to get to the finish line before the tire went flat again.

The rest of the ride flew by. I felt great the whole way. But I was still puzzled and frustrated by that back tire. It was something I just couldn't escape. By now I had gone through four tubes and four C02 cartridges just because of this reoccurring problem. How much unluckier could I get? But I guess it didn't matter. I crossed the finish line, threw my hobbling bike aside, and drank some cold water in the shade.

I was relieved and proud to have finished 100 miles. But I was also pissed off. Pissed that I had to change my back tire four times. That I had double, triple, quadruple checked the tire before the race only to find it flat just before the gun went off. That it went flat again just before the home stretch.

When I got home I decided to get to the bottom of it. I took the whole tire off and scanned the inside of it for any lingering sharp objects that may have been flattening each new tube. I found nothing but a few tiny nicks in the rubber. Flabbergasted, I felt one tiny bump one more time. I scratched it with my thumb. Out popped a tiny piece of glass.

It was just slightly bigger than a grain of sand. You'd have to squint to actually see it. But it was still sharp enough to pop a tube, and that's exactly what it did. Four times.

Cruising up Farrington Highway, you always encounter plenty of glass from shattered windshields and littered beer bottles. You try to avoid the larger pieces, but inevitably you'll ride over something. You just hope that your tire rolls over it at the right angle and it doesn't pierce your tube. I rolled over the wrong piece of glass. It was shaped perfectly to break through the skin of the tire and make a home in the inner rubber. It was small enough to hide in there and escape the naked eye each time I put in a new tube. It was sharp enough to break each tube as soon as any weight was placed on it.

I sat there and rolled the tiny piece of glass around with my fingers. It's crazy how much inconvenience that tiny shard of glass had caused. Staring at it, I hoped that something like this would never happen again.

But the truth is that this kind of stuff happens all the time. If you don't take care of unresolved problems from your past, they will continuously sabotage the present. No matter how many times you try to move forward, those same issues will come back and do the same harm. So stop and take a closer look at your tire. Pull out that tiny piece of glass. Let it go. And then ride on. 





Monday, August 13, 2012

Might


I might be the last thing you want to hear right now
Nagging you to do it, pushing while you stall
I might be your least favorite person
Giving you more when you want nothing at all.

Yet I might be the first place you visit
After an endless day of highs and lows
I might be the only star in your winter sky
Shimmering just faintly, but you wonder where it goes.

I might be the one to break you
Pushing you to be tougher than you actually are
I might be a bitter nightmare
Illuminating your fears and reopening your scars.

Still I might be the one to save you
Struggling to find you and refusing defeat
I might be the last hand that grabs you
Clutching your fingertips before you fall to the fate you’re expected to meet.

You might be the last thing I want to see today
Unwilling to do it, slowing down to a crawl
You might be my least favorite student
Pushing me away because you’ve hit that wall.

But you might be the first one I turn to
Searching for a reason to continue the fight
You might be the mirror that makes it all clear
Revealing my purpose as you reflect my own light.

We might be stuck in this battle together
Investing our souls on a steep burning slope
And we just might summit as champions
Proving to the rest that there can be hope.

One day the others might follow
And soon the odds won’t be so slight
They’ll believe that they too can make it
And with a little faith, who knows, they all just might.