I Saw Her Again

I was 6 feet tall when I started high school. But during those four years, I grew just one more inch. So in 2006, during my previous stay in Hawaii, I had assumed I had stopped growing, and would remain 6’1” for the rest of my life. Nothing wrong with that, right? 6’1” is a pretty respectable height. But anything less than 6 feet is considered short in my family, so at 6’1”, I was just barely making the grade.

Now that I’m back in Hawaii, people constantly remark about how much I’ve grown since the last time they saw me. I didn’t realize it, but in the four years I was away, I grew two inches, and am now 6’3”. (Once again, I’ve assumed I’ve stopped growing.) In addition to height, I added some bulk (also without realizing it), and I think it makes people think I grew more than I actually did.

But people also mention how much more mature I am now. I think they mean well, but it kind of makes me think I must have been a snotty little brat back then.

In any case, I don’t feel any different. Whether it’s physical or emotional growth, I never really notice it. Life feels like one big on-going experience to me.

I think when people think of themselves as “mature,” that’s when they stop maturing. I think a lot of these “older more mature people” who talk to me as if they have matured, have themselves stopped growing, and I don’t mean physically. When I look at them and the way they live, they seem to have cut themselves off from learning, get stuck in unproductive habits, and refuse to change, even when a more beneficial way is presented to them. And I’m not talking about things like technology, I’m talking about simple things like putting aside petty differences, and not holding grudges. These people are usually more than twice my age, so you’d think they’d be able to see things more clearly than I could. But because they think of themselves as “matured” they’ve stopped learning, and have settled into their lives as basically being the same person they will always be. I don’t mean to sound insolent and disrespectful, I just think it’s sad how they’ve shut themselves off from learning anything new.

Growth, I think, is a choice. We can’t choose how much we grow physically, but we can choose how much we grow emotionally. It seems once people hit a certain age, they tend to think, “I’m old now. I’m not gonna learn anything I haven’t learned already.” But it’s exactly that kind of thinking that interferes with their learning process.

I think of maturity as an on-going, never-ending process. For this reason, I will never think of myself as “mature,” but rather, “maturing.” Even when I’m old and gray and on my death bed, I will still think of myself as in the process of maturing. Sure, we need a certain amount of maturity to accomplish certain tasks the right way, and I can recognize when I’m more mature than I was before, but I won’t ever consider myself “mature” as if it’s some sort of defining plateau one has to reach. As long as I’m alive, I never want to stop growing. There’s just too much out there to learn. A thousand lifetimes could never answer the questions I have.

Perhaps maturity is just doing what you know to be right. I think there’s something inside all of us, a little voice telling us the right thing to do. But we so often let external influences prevent us from doing it. Pride, I think, might be the biggest influence of all. We’re so worried about keeping our pride intact that we stop ourselves from making the right decisions. And the person we hurt most when we do that is ourselves.

When I first moved back to Hawaii in 2006, I didn’t know too many people, since I had either lost touch with most of the friends I grew up with, or they had moved to the mainland. I was 19 years old at the time, and I had a cousin who was around 13 or 14. I didn’t have too many other friends, so she and I started hanging out. I figured it was good to get to know my relatives more.

I normally try not to talk too much with young girls. In this case, by “young” I mean any girl under the age of 18. It’s not that I mean to be rude and ignore them, but young girls are impressionable, and tend to get easily attached, if you know what I mean. I just don’t think it’s right for an older guy to hang around young girls.

But I figured there was nothing wrong with hanging out with my cousin. We’re related. It’s okay. Right…?

We enjoyed each others company, and grew closer as cousins, but there were a few strange occurrences. For instance, we were walking in the mall one day when she saw a girl she knew. They talked for a bit, and later I asked, “Who was that?”

“Why do YOU want to know?” she said, as if I had some secondary intention.

“I was just asking.”

There were little things like that that made me think there was some jealousy on her end. Jealousy is always unhealthy, but it was even weirder since we’re, you know, cousins.

My cousin started calling and texting me alot, and frequently asked me to pick her up from school and hang out. She was getting too attached to me. But naively I didn’t think too much about it, figuring, “We’re cousins.”

We went to the Punaho carnival where we ran into one of her teachers.

“Who’s this?” she asked, referring to me.

My cousin gave a long, winding, and confusing explanation of how she knew me. I really don’t know what she said. But the way she said it, it sounded as if we weren’t related.

The woman gave me a sideways look, as if to say, “What are doing with a girl her age?”

You know how some girls mature faster, so they look older than they really are? Not my cousin. She was 14, and she looked 14. Not that it would have made it any better had she looked older, but at least it would have looked less weird to passersby.

Her teacher left and I asked, “Why didn’t you just tell her we’re cousins?”

My cousin replied with another long, confusing explanation. I shrugged it off, thinking, “Girls are weird.”

Later we met some of her friends. They asked me, “So how did you two meet?”

“We’re cousins,” I said.

My cousin started ignoring me after that. Every time I’d say something, she refused to say anything, unless it was to find a way to snidely insult me. But she had no problem talking to other people.

“Something wrong?” I asked. Obviously there was.

She said something like, “If you don’t know, I’m not telling you.”

Seriously? What kind of reply is that?

“Why did you tell them we’re cousins!?” she finally asked.

“Because we are,” I said. She should be thankful I didn’t say I’m her babysitter.

She didn’t talk to me for the rest of the evening.

I thought, “She’s giving me the silent treatment? This is ridiculous.”

Now her friends knew that we were related, which, I guess, threw a wrench in her plans to use me to make her peers think she had an older guy-friend. I didn’t really mind her using me. It was kind of flattering, actually. I just didn’t like the bratty drama queen way she was going about it.

“I’ll leave, if you don’t want me to be here,” I said.

“I don’t care,” was her reply.

“You can get a ride home with someone else, right?”

“Yeah.”

So I left. She was with her friends, she had a ride home, I didn’t want to be there anyway, so I figured it was okay.

I got home and I received a text message from an unknown number. Turns out it was from one of her friend’s phones. It said, “Why did you leave her all by herself? You should come back and pick her up.”

Now I see why statutory laws exist. As much as they are to protect young girls from older guys, they’re also to protect older guys from young girls.

“Tell her to walk home,” was my reply. I’m not the type of guy who puts up with high school drama games. There was no way I was going all the way back when she had already told me she didn’t want me to be there.

Later we had an argument. I think she wanted me to get down on my knees, beg for forgiveness, and worship her majesty. But that wasn’t going to happen. She was giving me her little cry-baby run around, the way 14 year old girls do, but I wasn’t going to put up with that. I don’t remember what I said exactly, but I said something mean. Really mean. Poetically mean. That was the last time we spoke, some 4+ years ago.

They say girls mature faster than guys. But a 14 year old girl does not have the same maturity level as a 19 year old guy. (If she did, there’d surely be something wrong with the guy.) So what kind of scummy dirtbag goes around purposefully emotionally hurting young girls? Me, I guess.

Over the years, while I was in Seattle, I felt bad for what had happened before. She was wrong, but so was I. Her behavior was immature, but instead of fixing it, I let her bring me down with her. I shouldn’t have been so mean to her. Besides, she was only doing what insecure young girls do.

So two Christmases ago I sent her an email asking how she was, and wishing her a happy Christmas. I didn’t get a reply, so I figured she was still mad. “Oh well,” I thought. “At least I tried.”

Since I’ve returned to Hawaii, I knew I’d see her again eventually. I figured I might see her for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Years, but I didn’t.

Not too long ago, I went to my aunt’s 80th birthday party. It was held in a big ballroom, and there were a lot of people there. It was more like a wedding reception than a birthday. It was a family reunion of sorts, and I got to catch up with a lot of relatives I hadn’t seen in a long time, and even some I had never met at all. I figured my cousin wouldn’t be there, since she goes to college on the mainland. Break had ended for most college students, and I assumed she had already left.

I was talking to another relative, when he mentioned my cousin. “Did you talk to her yet? She’s sitting over there.”

He pointed across the room, and there she was.

I had long ago decided that when I saw her again I was going to be nice and talk to her the same way I would talk to anyone. I figured I wouldn’t say anything about what had happened before, unless she brought it up, and even then, I would talk about it as if it were no big deal. Maybe she was still mad, but as far as I was concerned, it was water under the bridge.

But now that the moment had come, somewhere in the back of my mind, I was having second thoughts.

“I haven’t seen or talked to her in over four years,” I thought. “I have no idea what her reaction will be.” More drama? Maybe. Maybe she’d try to make me feel bad about what happened, or maybe she’d try to justify her position. Maybe she’d expect me to apologize and drop rose petals on the ground she walked on. Maybe she’d treat me like dirt, insidiously looking for ways to make me look bad, while keeping a sweet demeanor on the outside, so that no one else would know anything was up. Or maybe she’d completely ignore me.

You know in cartoons when they have a devil and an angel trying to guide the main character? That’s exactly what happened to me. There was a puff of smoke, and a miniaturized devil version of myself appeared on the table in front of me.

Devil Rob: “You know, Rob, you don’t have to talk to her.”

At that point, there was another *poof* and an angel version of myself appeared on the table next to him. They both looked up at me.

Angel Rob: “Of course you have to talk to her. It would be rude not to.”

Devil Rob: “You could pretend like you didn’t see her. She might not even know you’re here.”

Angel Rob: “Whatever. She knows you’re here. Girls somehow always know things like this. They have built-in-radar, or something. She probably knew the moment you got here.”

Devil Rob: “Yeah, well, Rob doesn’t have built-in-radar, so he can’t be expected to know these things.”

Angel Rob: “He should get it installed.”

Devil Rob: “Hey, man. There’s a lot of people here. If you wanted to, you could probably avoid getting near her at all. Talk to other people, then slip out nice and casually.”

Angel Rob: “What kind of attitude is that?”

Devil Rob: “I’m just trying to look out for Rob here. This has the potential to be super awkward.”

Angel Rob: “It also has the potential to be a good thing.”

Devil Rob: “She didn’t respond to your email. She probably hates you.”

Angel Rob: “Maybe she didn’t see it. Or maybe she didn’t know what to say.”

Devil Rob: “Or maybe she hates you.”

Angel Rob: “So what if she hates you? Be a man and talk to her anyway.”

Devil Rob: “It would be weird.”

Angel Rob: “It got weird a long time ago. It can’t possibly get worse.”

Devil Rob: “Famous last words.”

Angel Rob: “She’s family. You can’t go the rest of your lives without talking. You’ve got to talk to her again at some point.”

Devil Rob: “Just talk to her next time. Nothing wrong with that.”

Angel Rob: “There’s no time like the present. It’s not good to leave things unresolved.”

Devil Rob: “Other people are talking to her. It would be rude to interrupt.”

Angel Rob: “Lame excuse. Talk to her anyway.”

Devil Rob: “If no one had pointed her out, you wouldn’t even know she was here. It’d be so easy to just forget about her.”

Angel Rob: “You gotta talk to her, Rob. Put your big boy Nike’s on and just do it.”

Devil Rob: “New Balance is better.”

Me: “I’m tired of this. Wait here.”

* * *

“Hey! How are you?”

“Tired,” she said, as if we had just talked recently. “I was up late last night, and had to wake up early this morning…”

I had no idea what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t that. She seemed apprehensive, but not upset.

“So…how have you been?” I asked, trying to make conversation.

“Okay…” she said. Suddenly her countenance changed entirely, she flashed a big nervous smile and said, “Sorry about what happened before!”

Before even giving me a chance to reply, she added, “I know you remember!” just in case I was going to pretend like I didn’t. And just like that, all tension between us had disappeared.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said.

“My head’s gotten a little smaller since then.” She framed her head with her arms, as if to show me that her head did, in fact, get smaller.

“Why didn’t you come over for Christmas?” she asked.

“I wanted to! But my grandma didn’t feel like going anywhere. She was too tired.”

She said, “I leave for the mainland tomorrow, but we should get together when I get back during the summer and catch up!”

“Looking forward to it,” I said, and I meant it.

 

Angel Rob: “Aren’t you glad he talked to her? She was probably waiting to say that to him for a long time. And to think, you wanted him to avoid her entirely.”

Devil Rob: “Grr….” * disappears angrily *

 

It’s so tempting to take the easy way out instead of doing what we know to be right. But doing the right thing is always more rewarding. People will sometimes do you wrong, but even so, you are also wrong if you fail to treat them right.

We talked a little more, and she again apologized about the things that had happened all those years ago.

“I grew up a little since then,” she said.

“I grew up a little, too.”

 

I’m Rob Kajiwara. No matter how old I get, I’ll never stop growing. Thanks for reading.

All I Need is a Miracle

Most people don’t know this, but I was actually born in San Francisco, not Hawaii. I was raised in Hawaii, and I never lived in California at all, so when people ask where I was born, I usually say Hawaii since it’s more convenient in passing conversation, and it spares me the explanation. But I’ll tell you the story now.

My parents were planning to visit my dad’s family who lived in the Bay area. I wasn’t supposed to be born for a while yet, so they and the doctor decided it would be safe for them to travel. They figured they’d return to Hawaii and still have ample time left before I was due.

But while they were there my mom realized I was going to be born early. Too early. She was a first-time mother in an unfamiliar place, going into labor far sooner than she was supposed to, nothing was going as planned, so I can imagine she was pretty scared. She remembers the story vividly, and frequently tells me the song playing on the radio in the taxi on their way to the hospital was, “All I Need is a Miracle,” by Mike & the Mechanics.

The main part of the song goes like this:

 

“All I need is a miracle,

 All I need is you.” 

 

My mom says she was praying to God for a miracle, so that I’d be born safely.

I was born prematurely. The doctors were unsure of how long I’d live, so I was baptized on the spot in the hospital. I don’t know how small I was, but they tell me I was pretty tiny. Even when it became apparent I would survive, there was still concern as to how healthy I would be.

I guess I shouldn’t say I never lived in San Francisco, because from what I understand I had to stay in the hospital for a month, followed by another month at a relative’s house before I was able to “return” to Hawaii. Even then I had to use a ventilator (or some type of machine), so I’m told, and there was an alarm of some sort that would sound when something would go wrong. There were plenty of false alarms, and my relatives were constantly running to see if I was okay.

Something must have gone right, because here I am, 24 years later, healthy as can be. People constantly remark about how tiny I was when I was a baby, and how big I am now. “I carried him in one hand!” says my grandpa, when telling the story. “Now look at him!” I’m 6’3”, 190 pounds, and I’ve always been active in sports and things, so yeah, I’d say something went right.

My mom often tells me the story, with the song and everything, and the implication is that it was a miracle I was born healthy. It’s a good story, but I think they might be exaggerating a bit. Not only was I my parents first child, but I was the first grandchild to my grandparents on both sides, and the first nephew to my uncles and aunts. There were a lot of people hoping and pulling for me, so perhaps they were just a little overly worked up.

I don’t mean to sound unappreciative of the care that so many people took for me, but I can’t help but feel like I was never in any real danger. A lot of babies are born prematurely, right? Some more premature than I was. And anyway, my mom says that I’ve always been impatient and curious, saying I “just wanted to see San Francisco.”

Babies usually get a lot of care and attention, but I think I got more than most because of all the commotion surrounding my birth. This continued throughout my childhood, and I guess it never really went away. I’ve always been spoiled. I think I have a tendency to take the little things people do for me for granted.

My mom has always told me I have guardian angels. My first guardian angel is my Uncle Robert, who was my dad’s oldest sibling. He died of an illness before I was born. I don’t know how old he was, but I guess he was in his late thirties / early forties. I don’t know much about him, but I think he worked as a mechanic. I’m told he was a good older brother who took care of my dad and his siblings after their alcoholic father left the family. So when my parents found out they were having a baby boy, they made the easy decision to name me after him. He and I are both the oldest child in large families, we’re both hapa* (he was Filipino/Latino), and I carry on his given name, so even though I never met him, I feel as if we have a lot in common. My mom says he was the guardian angel who made sure I was born safely.

* hapa: Mixed ethnicity, with partial Asian/Pacific Islander roots. 

Next is my other uncle, who I’m not actually related to, but was a close friend of the family. He’s my godfather. He got sick and died when I was really young. I think he was also in his thirties or forties. I don’t remember much about him, mostly just vague images. But I do remember him taking me driving around the North Shore of Oahu, passing Rabbit Island, and then taking me to lunch at Jack in the Box. People say he was a good public speaker, and an all-around nice guy. He was one of the many people who cared for me as a baby.

Then comes one of my great-uncles, who died in a fire in 2006. He did his tour in the military, and then worked various odd jobs as janitors, handi-cap bus drivers, and such. He did a lot for me and my family. He was not rich, but he and my grandpa bought us our first mini-van when our family was growing, and he would regularly give us money for our savings, which over time added up to quite a lot. He helped us when we moved to Seattle. My dad actually got teary-eyed at his funeral, which I think is the first and only time I’ve seen him cry.

Then comes another great-uncle, who died in 2009 after complications from breaking his back. He was in the navy “pumping gas” for planes, before working as a mechanic and craftsman. He used to pick my sister and I up from preschool and babysit us until my mom and dad got home from work. He would also give us quite a bit of money, food, and anything else he had, and he never wanted anything in return. Seriously. You practically had to force him to accept if you wanted to give him something.

My mom also includes her brother, who died when he was 3 years old, also in a fire, decades before I was born.

I include my dog, Rex, who died of cancer in 2007. He died in his prime, but had long guarded us and our home. Some of the surrounding blocks of our neighborhood had experienced burglaries and shady characters, but we never did, and my mom largely credits Rex for protecting us and our immediate neighbors.

So there you have it. My guardian angels. All died tragically. But all had a profound impact on me.

I’ve never had anything close to a near-death experience, but there have been times when things could have easily gone wrong, and somehow I got off scotch-free.

After I graduated high school I went to an acting school in Seattle for a little while. It was a bit of a drive, so one of the girls in my class and I would carpool to save gas. Usually I insisted on driving (it’s a guy thing), but she wanted to this time, so I let her.

After class we were driving at night through downtown Seattle, when she turned the wrong way down a one-way street. We found ourselves heading straight toward a bus, and it wasn’t slowing down at all. She drove up onto the sidewalk, and somehow we missed all of the signs, poles, and pedestrians, and we ended up safely on another street.

She was in shock. “I can’t believe what just happened!” she said.

“You’re never driving again,” was my reply.

It’s kind of amazing how we got out of that situation without hurting anyone, and without even a scratch on the car. We were able to drive away as if nothing had happened. I couldn’t help but wonder if someone up there was looking out for me…

While in Washington my car had broken down, so I took to biking. I was riding home one foggy night during the winter. I had a flashlight attached to my bike, but as I rode, the battery died. I tried to play around with it to make it come back on, but it was no use. As I rode down a hill, a car was approaching, and I thought, “Oh man, this guy probably can’t see me at all.” But as the car got closer my flashlight flickered on long enough to let the driver know I was there. After that the flashlight died, and never came on again. “What a strange coincidence,” I thought. I couldn’t help but wonder…

One morning I was driving to work on Martin Luther King Jr. Way where the speed limit is 50. Someidiot who doesn’t know how to drive terribly mistaken person had stopped in the middle of this busy highway trying to make a left turn across a double yellow line, which, of course, is never supposed to be crossed. (There are even signs explaining this.) It was around a corner, so it was difficult for approaching cars to see. The car in front of me slammed on his breaks, and I slammed on mine, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop in time, so I swerved into the next lane.

Had the roads been wet (as they often are in Seattle) or had there been a car in the lane beside me, the outcome could have been much different. But instead I went to work as if nothing had happened.

There are other examples that I won’t share here. But it’s moments like these, when things could have easily gone terribly wrong, and instead I got off without a scratch, that make me wonder if my guardian angels really are pulling some strings for me. Is it all in my head? Perhaps. Maybe I was never in any real danger, but even so there comes with it a strange sense of reassurance. Society forces us to think practically. But that’s the nice thing about having an imagination. There’s always a small portion of you that can believe in these unseen things. You just never really know what could be up there, or what could be happening around you.

When I was in Washington I had my own apartment. After a year I could no longer afford it, so I had to move back in with my parents. I really didn’t want to, because my mom and I argue all the time, mostly about my career path. She thinks it’s getting me nowhere, and that I’m wasting my time. Almost every night she’d threaten to kick me out if I didn’t change my ways. Not being able to keep my big mouth shut, I had to argue back. But one night the argument was more heated than usual, and finally, I was actually kicked out. My dad is bigger than me, and he literally shoved me and all my belongings out the door.

I had no money, and nowhere to go. “This sucks,” I thought. “It doesn’t get much more pitiful than this.” It was just laughably bad. So I threw all my things in my car, and slept in the back seat.

That night I had a dream. All of my guardian angels were there. They didn’t really say anything, but I knew they were there to cheer me up and say, “Don’t worry about it.” The next day I swallowed my pride, apologized to my folks, agreed to certain terms, and I was reinstated back into the household.

I don’t know if my guardian angels really have pulled some invisible strings to help steer me out of tough situations, or if it’s just a nice thought, but there is a tremendous amount of confidence and reassurance that comes from believing that there are a lot of people out there pulling for you.

I’ve lived a very easy life so far. Seeing how I’ve been blessed with so much, and how nothing truly bad has ever happened to me personally, I can’t help but feel I’m meant to achieve something more here.

There are many definitions as to what constitutes a miracle. Like the word “love,” everyone seems to have their own idea of what it is. Some think it’s an act of God – perhaps carried out by angels – some think it’s just a fortunate coincidence, and some say any wonderful occurrence is a miracle.

I do not pretend to know God’s thoughts, or what unseen forces may be working among us. It is not my place to try and define what is or isn’t a miracle, and I’m certainly not going to go around proclaiming I can perform them. There is nothing special about me. But whether or not you believe in miracles, angels, religion, God, or the like, I think almost everyone wants someone to remember nice things about them after they die.

You can live life as if there are no such things as miracles, looking around you to see nothing but ordinary people and ordinary things taking up space. Or you could live as if everything is a miracle.

See, my guardian angels are called so because of the impact they had on me and my family during their lifetimes. None of them were rich by any means, at least not by material standards. None of them had families of their own, so they might not be remembered by many. But they are remembered by me and my family, and hopefully I in turn can use the gifts they’ve given me to make a difference. They were ordinary people who did little things with care, and it went a long way. So even now that they’re gone, we can’t help but feel they are still with us, continuing to exercise love in seemingly simple ways, just as they always did.

Could this be what miracles are? Simple love and care that results in something greater, something that makes a lasting impact, something that makes you feel a person’s love is with you wherever you go?

I’ve always thought that I had to do big things to make a difference. And maybe someday I will. But when we take the time and effort to do little things for people, not just towards family and friends, but towards anyone we come across, regardless of whether we like that person, dislike them, or have no opinion of them, we are able to make a difference, even if it’s only in a small way. It might sometimes look like your effort goes unnoticed or unappreciated. But you never know how far the little things you do will really go. It all adds up. You might not think you’re doing much, but you might one day realize that you made more of a difference than you ever thought you could.

A lot of times we think there is nothing special we can do for others. But I think doing things with love makes quite a profound impact. It’s about taking a little bit of time for someone, even when you’ve got a busy schedule. It’s about going just a little bit out of your way to help someone even if you’re tired and you’ve had a long day. It’s about not ignoring the little things, and looking for ways you can help others, instead of simply going through your daily routine concerned only with yourself and the challenges that you face.

We should never think that we can’t help, that we have nothing to give, or that things we do are not important. We should seek to do more than just get by. When we act with love towards people, when we take just a bit of time and effort to do something for them, in this way, little by little, we are making a difference. We should not overlook the little things, or ignore opportunities, even when it doesn’t benefit ourselves. And we should make the effort to do the ordinary things in life with greater care.

Because that is how miracles can happen.

 

I’m Rob Kajiwara, believer in miracles. Thanks for reading.

 

 

Love Will Find a Way

When I was in high school there was a girl I had a few classes with. We’d known each other since middle school, but had never really gotten to know each other until the later years of high school. We became friends, and after a while she started doing things for me. She’d cook for me, bake for me, buy things for me, ask me to hang out, ect.

She’s tall and thin. I think she must be at least 5’8”. She has a heart-shaped face that I always thought reminded me of Kristen Dunst. (She hated it whenever I said that.) She’s half-Japanese, so she has a certain exotic look to her. People say she looks like she could be one of those Japanese models or something.

Eventually people started talking as if we were either going out, or were about to go out, and they weren’t subtle about it. I shrugged it off.

Her friends began asking me things like, “Do you like her?”

“I like her as a friend,” was my reply.

They’d say, “But do you like her, like her?”

At that point I’d say something like, “She’s a good friend, and blah blah blah.” I didn’t like her as anything more, but I was trying to be nice/subtle/diplomatic/Asian* about it.

*Asian culture has this thing where you’re not supposed to be direct about things. More about that some other time.

This went on for a while. She’d continue to do things for me, and her friends would continue to say things like:

– “She’s pretty, don’t you think?”

– “You guys are friends, so why not something more?”

– “You should ask her to homecoming/prom/whatever.”

– Or simply, “She wants you to ask her out.”

Even my parents liked her. My mom would say –

Wait. When you imagine my mom’s voice, you have to imagine a high-pitched, shrilly, squeaky voice. (“I do not talk like that!” says my mom whenever my siblings and I make fun of her. But she does.)  Ready? Let’s try this again.

My mom would say, “She’s a nice girl, and she’s gorgeous! Don’t you like her?”

To me, “gorgeous” is synonymous with “beautiful.” Is she pretty? Sure. But beautiful? Hold on there.

My mom is the last person I’d talk to about girls, so I shrugged and murmured my usual, “I like her as a friend.” (This was getting really old.) She continued. “Stop being so picky. Someday a girl is going to come along and break your heart!”

Thanks, mom. Something to look forward to!

Apparently my mom thought I was a big jerk for not going out with this girl. But it’s not like I led her on. I gave her no indication that I was at all interested. I did nothing intentional to try to get her to like me. How am I supposed to go out with someone I don’t like?

This went on for a while. I’d be nice to her, she’d do things for me, people would continue to talk to me about her, we’d hang out as friends, but nothing more, and her and her friends kept wondering why I wasn’t interested.

One day I saw her in the hallway holding hands with a guy we were friends with. I thought it was strange, since he never seemed like the type of guy she’d go for. In fact, I knew she didn’t like him, and I thought they were holding hands as part of some weird game or something. Later I realized it was an attempt to get me jealous, but at the moment I thought, “Well that’s strange,” and went on with my day. You can’t make someone jealous when there’s nothing to be jealous about.

Her and her friends really pulled out all the stops to try to get me to ask her out. They tried every trick in the book. I admire her tenacity. I was flattered by the extent she went to. I’ve never had any other girl do so much just to try to get my attention. A lot of guys would give a lot to be with a girl like her. I felt kind of bad in a way. She picked the one guy – the one weird guy – who just wasn’t interested. I didn’t feel too bad though, since I knew she would have no problem finding someone else.

Her and her friends kept trying to figure out why I didn’t like her.

They thought, “Maybe he doesn’t want to have a girlfriend right now so he can focus on school.”

Nope. Never cared much about school. Besides, I don’t see any reason why you can’t focus on something and do other things at the same time.

“Maybe his parents don’t want him to be distracted from school and baseball and things.”

Like I said, they actually wanted me to go out with her, so that wasn’t it.

“Maybe he likes someone else.”

That really had nothing to do with it.

And finally, after they had exhausted the other possibilities, they thought, “Maybe he’s gay.”

They never figured out the real reason why I was never interested.

Finally one of her guy friends came to talk to me.

“She likes you,” he said. “She just wants to give it a try.”

Try? What is there to try? I don’t need to stick my hand in a fire to know that it’s hot. Sometimes you need to try something to see if it’ll work. But other times you just know when it isn’t right.

“You don’t like her as more than a friend?”

“No,” I replied.

“Not even a little?”

“Not even a little.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. I just don’t.”

Back then I knew I didn’t like her, I just didn’t know how to explain it. But I’m older now, so it’s easier to understand.

You see, her and I have nothing in common. We went to the same high school, we’re both kinda tall, and we’re both part Japanese (and there were only around 5 Japanese people in our entire school) so people thought we’d be a good match. But those things are trivial.

Her idea of a good time is going to a bar or party or club or something. I don’t drink. I think alcohol tastes terrible. It smells terrible. It isn’t appealing to me in any way, and neither are girls who drink. So what was I supposed to do while she’s doing those things? Did she really expect me to follow her around to those places?

She likes drinking. I like chasing dreams. She likes going to parties. I like making plans to change the world. She likes getting wasted. I have so many hobbies, interests, and ambitions that I don’t think I could ever get wasted, because I’d never want to waste my time.

One time I said to her, “Look at that cloud! It looks like a turtle.”

Her reply was, “You’re stupid.”

The fact that she called me stupid didn’t offend me at all. Friends can do that. What she said wasn’t important. I didn’t care if she had thought it looked like a dragon, or a penguin, if she had called it a visible mass of H2O, or if she had thought it was simply a beautiful cloud. She didn’t have to say anything at all. I’m not insensible enough to put much stock into any one thing a person says, but after having known her for a while, it confirmed what I already knew: that we are different in every possible way. It was a perfect example of why I could never be with her. I look up and see amazing things. She looks up and sees nothing but clouds. I look at the world around me and feel an insatiable desire to make a difference. She looks at the world and sees just a place to live.

It’s been years since then. We’re still friends, she has a boyfriend, but I never talk about other girls around her. If I so much as mention another girl in any context, she gets moody and will make some kind of comment, like…

“I think you like ugly girls. Don’t you?”

…What!?

“Well not really ugly, but plain girls. You like plain girls. Right?”

Woah. Wait. You can call me ugly or plain. But you can’t say that about the girls I like. I take offense on their behalf.

“Not plain…but you don’t like pretty girls, right? You don’t like girly-girls?”

She was trying to figure out why I never liked her. To this day, she doesn’t know the real reason. It has nothing to do with the way she looks.

People say she’s pretty, but she doesn’t look too pretty to me when she drinks or swears, and I don’t think she’s pretty at all when she’s inebriated. It seems like every picture I see of her includes alcohol in some way. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that was the most important thing in her life.

She was right about one thing though. I don’t like pretty girls. I like beautiful girls.

There’s no such thing as a girl who isn’t pretty. You could show me any given girl and I bet I could identify at least one trait about her that I think is pretty.

Beauty, on the other hand, is entirely different. Some people call model girls “beautiful.” But I don’t see it. I never have. Beautiful is not a word I toss around carelessly. People who look with just their eyes miss out on some of the best things the world has to offer. Beauty is felt with the heart. It comes from the soul.

That girl did a lot of nice things for me. I appreciate the effort, but ultimately it didn’t matter. It isn’t about what I can do for someone, or what someone can do for me. It’s about what we can do together. That’s what I think a relationship is supposed to be.

Do opposites attract? Or is it better to have a lot in common? I say both. It has to be a mix of the two. If you’re too similar you won’t be able to support each other in your weaker areas, and in the long run you might just be too similar to get along. But if you’re too different, you won’t have enough in common to want to do things together.

I think it’s important to have a common passion. You don’t have to like all the same things – actually, it’d be weird if you did – you just have common values.

The one thing your common passion shouldn’t be, though, is each other. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to be passionate about one another, but if that’s your only common passion, eventually you’ll find something wrong with each other, something you just don’t like, and all of a sudden the passion subsides. But when you are passionate about common values you are able to work through your differences not for the sake of maintaining your relationship, but because there’s no one else you’d rather be with.

It isn’t that this girl I knew in high school wasn’t good enough for me. It’s just that she wasn’t meant for me. And I wasn’t meant for her. I guess I’m the only person to have seen that.

My mom said I was being too picky. But I’d rather be alone than be with someone if it means taking me away from the things I was meant to do. It’s not that I expect to be with someone who is really great. Just someone who is great for me. And if I’m great for her, then perhaps we might achieve great things together. And if it can’t be like that, I might be better off on my own. I can’t let anyone or anything get in the way of the things I was meant to do.

Let’s pretend for a moment that I had gone out with that girl. Putting aside the fact that I would have been unhappy, it would have been unfruitful. I would have been tied down to things I was not meant to do, in places I was not meant to be, with people I was not meant to be with. She would’ve been unhappy that I was unhappy, and it just never could have worked. The way I see it, I saved the both of us a lot of trouble.

I don’t think this girl put much thought into it before deciding she liked me. I think she decided she wanted a boyfriend, thought, “Hey, here’s this guy I know at school,” decided I met her criteria, and boom, she liked me. She didn’t think about whether we had a connection or not, whether we were similar at all, whether we’d be a good fit, and most importantly, whether we were meant to be.

She is still a good friend of mine. But we were never meant to be anything more.

Would you rather travel down a road you weren’t meant to take, or travel alone? When you travel alone, someone might just join you when you least expect it. But if you’re on a different path entirely, you might be missing out.

I’m not saying you have to wait for the one person you are going to spend the rest of your life with. Let’s face it: you could be waiting a long time. All I’m saying is the best things are not always what’s right in front of you.

Our minds can play tricks on us. Our hearts can mislead us. You can convince yourself to like someone you really don’t belong with. But if you ask yourselves why you want to be with them – Is it because of their looks or things they do for you? Is it because of some sort of prestige you have associated with them? Is it because other people think you should? Or is it because you don’t want to be alone? – and if you’re unafraid to admit to the possibility that maybe this person really isn’t meant for you, then the answers become quite clear.

If something is meant to be it can never really be lost, just postponed, meaning, even if you make mistakes and travel down other paths, you will eventually find yourself with whoever you’re meant to be with. But when you do that you put yourself through a lot of trouble, you waste a lot of time, and you might postpone the very things that you were looking for in the first place. I’d rather be with someone who was meant for me, even if it means waiting a little longer, than be with someone I’m not meant for.

Patience is not one of my strong points, and I’m not always so insightful. Like everyone, sometimes I travel down roads I’m not meant to take. It just so happened that with that girl the signs were lined up so clearly that I saw there was no point in a potential relationship.

You should never worry about ending up alone, because if you desire companionship, it will come to you someday. I think people who stay single their entire lives are people who never cared about it much to begin with, so it doesn’t really matter to them. When you want something for the right reasons, love will find a way. It may not be with the person you thought it would be with, it may come from unforeseen sources in unexpected times, but it will come to you, someday. I truly believe that for every heart there is a heart out there waiting for you, even if they haven’t met you yet. But if you jump at the first available opportunity, the first person who comes along you think you might like, then the right person for you might walk right on by, and you may never even notice.

So if you’re alone today, don’t worry about it. Be glad that you aren’t traveling down a road not meant for you. Instead of being in a meaningless relationship, you have the opportunity to find someone that you were really meant to share things with.

And if you’re not alone, well… forget you! Just kidding. If you’re with someone you were meant to be with, then good for you.

 

I’m Rob Kajiwara. Happy Valentine’s Day. Thanks for reading.

Even if we’re just dancing in the dark

Not long before I left Seattle my ipod died. I was about to head to Hawaii for what I thought would be a short visit. I bought a new ipod, but since I thought I’d only be gone for a little while I didn’t bother putting much music on it. I put a few CD’s on it without really paying attention to what they were, just enough to keep me occupied for a little while. I figured I’d download the rest when I got back.

Of course I get to Hawaii and realize I’m staying. It may have been a poorly planned move, and it may have been a rash decision, but Hawaii is where I’ve always wanted to be anyway. Had I gone back to Seattle as planned, who knows when I’d be able to return again. But had I known I was going to move permanently I would have prepared a lot better, and I would have put a lot more music on my ipod.

I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the world. For years now I’ve been working on ways I can do that. I always thought, “After I become successful, that’s when I can make an impact.”

A lot of people have dreams and aspirations, and a lot of people say they want to make a difference. But many people also say they can’t do it because they are lacking something. They seem to think, “When __ happens, that’s when I can make a difference.”

“- when I have more money”

“- when I finish school”

“- when I get a better job”

“- when I get married, or at least find someone”

“- when I figure out what I want”

For me it was, “After I become successful.”

There’s a song called “Dancing in the Dark,” by Bruce Springsteen. It happens to be one of the few songs on my ipod. It was one of those songs that I had never previously paid much attention to. Who cares about dancing in the dark anyway? What’s the point?

But when you have a limited amount of music on your ipod, you end up listening to the same songs over and over. The more I listened to it the more it grew on me. Songs have different meanings to different people, but I’ll tell you what it means to me.

Bruce Springsteen sings:

 

“I’m sick of sitting around here trying to write this book…”

 

Woah. That’s definitely something I can relate to. I’ve been working on my book for over two years now. Sometimes I haven’t felt compelled to work on it, and sometimes it just hasn’t been fun. There have been stretches of time when I’ve completely ignored it.

When I started working on it in 2009 I pretty much kept myself away from most other things, distancing myself even from family and friends, thinking that focusing on my book would expedite the writing process. I wanted to get it done right away so I could move on to the next step. I was thinking, “I’ll have it finished in a few months.” But a few months passed, and it still wasn’t done. I kept thinking, “A few more months, just a few more months. It won’t be much longer.”

I had a job at that time, or what you might call a “real” job, so my days went more or less like this: job – work out – writing – sleep – repeat. There were other things, of course, but, in a nutshell, that’s kind of how it was.

I didn’t ignore people completely. But I also wasn’t there for them when I probably should have been. I neglected certain people I wish I hadn’t. I let my own ambitions get in the way of people who are important to me.

 

“I need a little reaction,

Come on, give me just one look”

 

Humans are social by nature. Even introverts like and need social interaction when it’s comfortable for them. I think people need reaction, we need encouragement and reinforcement, we need solid family and friends to support us in the things we do. And by support, I don’t mean it because we are not strong on our own, but because we are stronger with the backing of others.

It’s okay to be introverted. But if you live a life like a Kermit… I mean… like a hermit, what good will you do? It might be a nice way of getting away from society, but ultimately you will achieve nothing. You won’t be contributing to the world around you in any way, though I suppose it’s better than contributing negatively. I think some people hide from society because of all the cruel things in the world. Then why not be the change you want to see? That’s the only way progress can be made. Yeah, people suck sometimes. Nobody said it was easy being green.

In my case, I wasn’t trying to get away from society, I was just looking for ways to be more productive. I thought that by focusing more on my task I could get more work done. I’ve never been a hermit by any means, but when you’re so involved in your own things that you miss out on the rest of the world, you might as well be.

 

“You can’t start a fire

 You can’t start a fire without a spark”

 

To me, “starting a fire” is a metaphor for making an impact, being a good influence, making a change in the world. And you can’t do that without some kind of ignition. You have to start somewhere.

 

“This gun’s for hire”

 

You can hope someone comes and “hires” you, and you can hope opportunities show up at your door. But if you wait for things to come to you, you might end up waiting a while.

 

“Even if we’re just dancing in the dark”

 

Sometimes you may not know what to do. Sometimes you may feel like making a change, but you don’t know how to go about it. Or, if you’re like me, you might know what you want, but you think you have to achieve a certain status before you can do it.

I think of “dancing in the dark” as a metaphor, meaning we may not be doing much, we might not be able to do the things we want to, we might not know what else we can do, but if it’s all we have right now, we should do it. It’s better than doing nothing.

But perhaps it isn’t just a metaphor. You can take it literally if you want. Dancing in the dark may not be useful in any way. It doesn’t help anyone, so why do it? But if it gets you to stand up and maybe take the next step, I think it’s worth doing.

Some people say they just don’t know what they can do. I think doing something – anything – is better than nothing, as long as you aren’t hurting anyone. It might not be the right thing for you. But it might lead you to the right opportunity, it might open your eyes to new possibilities.

 

“There’s something happening somewhere,

I just know that there is.”

 

 There’s always something going on somewhere. Most people don’t like to feel left out. For a while I purposefully kept myself away from things so I could focus on being successful. But I think I missed out on some things that I wanted to be a part of.

 

“You can’t start a fire

Sitting around crying over a broken heart,”

 

Everyone is unhappy sometimes. It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself when things don’t work out the way you thought or hoped they would. But it’s also easy to forget a broken heart when your heart is set on somehow making a difference in the world. You can’t start a fire sitting around wallowing in self-pity. So if you put your attention on finding ways to help someone besides yourself, not only is it easier to forget the things that have been making you unhappy, but you might find a way to make a new start.

 

“You can’t start a fire

 Worrying about your little world falling apart,”

 

Sometimes people get so consumed in their own lives that they forget about the rest of the world. Me included.

But what happens when your little world crumbles? Does anyone care? It doesn’t affect them in any way, so why should they? You can think it selfish of people not to care, or you can think it selfish of yourself for expecting people to care about your tiny world that involves no one but you. Even the people who genuinely care about you can only do so much to help. It isn’t your little world that matters, but the world that you bring to others.

When I started writing my book two years ago I wasn’t concerned with anything besides finishing it. Not only did I miss out on some things, but it made me kind of miserable, it just wasn’t fun, and it was counter productive. Sure, I got a lot of work done during that time. But it still isn’t finished. Could I have made significant progress on it while still being more involved in other things? Probably.

Yeah, I could have handled things differently. But I try not have any regrets. Things happened the way it happened for a good reason, whatever that reason may be. I may have missed out on some things during that time. But ultimately I think I was where I needed to be, at the time I needed to be, so I don’t think I missed anything I was supposed to be a part of, even if I’m not too happy about it. However, I’ve resolved not to put things off anymore, and to never ignore people, especially those who mean a lot to me.

You might not be consciously taking yourself away from things, but if you are putting off things that you want to do, things that you know are right, because of a lack of money, or time, or for other reasons, then maybe you should ask yourself if you are being too concerned with your own little world.

It’s great to have dreams and goals, and it’s great to be working towards them. But you can’t ignore the present. It’s not enough to think, “Someday. Someday I’ll be in position to make a difference.” The difference you can and should make is today. Right now. Whatever your situation may be.

“I’ll do those things after I finish school. Oh, but now I have a load of student loans to pay off, and I want to travel and have some fun before I really grow up so I better find a job to get some money. But now I’m starting a family, so I better find a decent house. I better start saving so my kids can go to college, no time to do anything else. Wow, now I’m old. Where did all that time go? Oh well, I’ll leave it to the next generation to make a difference.”

Excuses will always be readily at hand, so we shouldn’t let them get in the way. Obviously money is necessary for certain things. But if you keep thinking, “Someday I’ll have more money, that’s when I’ll start,” you might find that a lot of time has passed you by. If you’re reading this, you are wealthier than the vast majority of people in the world, so let money be no excuse.

I’m not saying you should deviate from your chosen path, and I’m not saying you should run yourself into debt. What I’m saying is the difference you want to make can start now. Doing so might actually help you get to where you want to be.

You might not have all the money you need to do certain things, but when there’s a will there’s a way. You’ll just have to be a little more creative in your endeavors. And anyway, sometimes the best things you can do require no money at all.

It’s great to be working towards big dreams, but there’s no reason why you can’t start making little dreams come true today. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you, create opportunities. It may not feel right at first, but it might lead you to where you’re meant to be. Besides, sometimes the most important difference you can make is by doing little things for the people closest to you.

We are human. We are meant to achieve great things. Each and every one of us has the power to do so. But you can’t expect anything to be handed to you. You have to start somewhere, at some point. We should all be doing something. Even if we’re just dancing in the dark.

 

I’m Rob Kajiwara, and I’ve danced in the dark. Thanks for reading.

 

Take Me Home Tonight

I don’t try to hide my unhappiness about having lived for so long in Washington state. The sky is almost always gray, it is wet for 3/4ths of the year, and the days seem bitterly short during the winter. Sometimes it’s down right depressing. It’s a sharp contrast from the always sunny and warm Hawaii. But those aren’t the real reasons why I was unhappy there.

My family moved from Hawaii to Washington when I was 10. All of my friends, teachers, and family were very supportive, telling me how exciting it was to be moving to the mainland, so it didn’t seem too bad at first.

We arrived at Sea-Tac International Airport at night. Though it was dark, I could see endless trees. I’d never seen so many trees in my life, and this isn’t some rural forest area either, it’s a heavily populated metro. The cold air was actually exciting. It brought an entirely different feeling than the always-warm weather of Hawaii.

That winter it snowed early, and a lot. Snow, to a kid who grew up in Hawaii, is like Christmas. We built snowmen that were bigger than us, and had epic snowball fights. I guess we were spoiled, because it doesn’t usually snow that much around the Puget Sound. That was a winter to remember.

Summer was fun. It actually gets hotter there than it does in Hawaii, and there are sometimes long, sunny, dry spells that can almost make you forget all the rain that Seattle is known for. We have a little creek running through our backyard with willow, apple, and maple trees lining the sides. Our house is two stories, and we have a large patio overlooking our backyard. So during the summer, when I was little, I would take one of my action-figures – the bravest of them all – attach a plastic bag parachute to his back, and throw him off the patio as far as I could. Sometimes he’d land in the creek, and sometimes he’d land on the other side. Sometimes his parachute failed to deploy properly and I would rush downstairs to provide emergency aid. And sometimes the parachute fell off completely.

But the most amazing thing about Washington was autumn. Fall in the Pacific Northwest isn’t always pretty, since it tends to rain a lot. But during late September and early October there will be a few days where the sun will be shining through a cloudless blue sky, the weather turns cold and crisp; cold enough to clearly signal the end of summer, but not too cold to be uncomfortable, and you’ll see rows and rows of trees with leaves painted in brown, orange, yellow, and red. I’ve seen it so many times now, but every year I’m still amazed when the leaves change colors. It gives me a nostalgic feeling as if, should I let my imagination run wild, I might just fall into a different world. Like something from Beauty and the Beast. It makes me think that something incredible might just happen. Not that incredible things can’t happen on any other day, but it seems like the stage is set for something strangely wonderful to occur on days like these. I know it’s just my imagination, but that’s what imaginations are for after all: creating exciting things out of the ordinary.

Anyway, I’d say these autumn days are about as perfect as there could ever be. Hawaii has good days throughout the year, whereas Washington’s are few and far between. But honestly no day in Hawaii can really match Washington’s best.

There are some fun things to do in Washington that you can’t do in Hawaii. There are major league sports teams, which is a huge upgrade from Hawaii’s collegiate teams. There are amusement parks and fairs, bigger and better than any in Hawaii. Around Halloween you can go to pumpkin patches and pick your own pumpkins. Around Christmas you can go to tree farms deep into the rural areas to pick and cut your own perfect Christmas tree, fresher than any Christmas tree in Hawaii. During the spring if you go to the valleys you can see endless fields of tulips in any color you could ask for, looking like it came straight out of a Dutch painting. During the summer you can drive almost anywhere and pass fruit vendors selling fresh cherries and apricots. And of course, any time of year, there’s the majestic snow-domed Mt. Rainer, standing high and proud, overlooking the entire Seattle area.

So no, I don’t dislike everything about Seattle. In fact, there’s a lot to like.

When we first moved to Washington we lived in an apartment in a quaint town called Issaquah. We stayed there for nine months while my parents looked for a house to buy. I liked the school there, I made lots of friends, and I enjoyed it.

But that summer they found the house they wanted, and it happened to be in a different city, so once again I had to leave everything I knew. This time I was really mad. “You can do it to me once, but you can’t do it to me again! Not now.” That was my way of thinking. I was so stubborn, for the first few months, in protest, I actually tried not to make friends at our new home, hoping against hope that they would somehow change their mind and buy a house back in Issaquah, or better yet, go back to Hawaii.

The rest of my family had a much easier time adjusting to the Pacific Northwest. They like it so much now I’m fairly certain none of them will ever return permanently to Hawaii. I got used to Washington, but subconsciously I always thought of it as just a temporary home. We took most of our things with us when we moved. But I left my heart in Hawaii.

After I graduated high school I returned to Hawaii by myself. While I was happy to be back in the place I grew up, I was unhappy, because I had dreams that I was chasing, and I didn’t really know how to go about it. So after a year I returned to Seattle planning on staying there for a few months while I worked to get one of my dreams off the ground.

For various reasons, I was there for four years, and not because I wanted to be. Every day I was there I thought about Hawaii, and looked forward to the day I would return.

People would say, “You’re from Hawaii!? How nice that must be!”

When people think of Hawaii they think of the crystal clear blue water, the white sandy beaches, the sun and sunsets, scenic Diamond Head, things like that. But they don’t really understand what it is about Hawaii that means something to me. Sometimes the ordinary things are what I love best.

– The red dirt found everywhere, formed from hundreds of thousands of years of lava flow, the high-ridge mountains cascading down both sides of the island, and the unique blend of trees and plants and things that you can’t really find elsewhere.

– The way rain clouds gather around the Ko’olau’s, creating a sublime effect where part of the island is sunny, and part is dark.

– The empty grass fields of central Oahu. The simple, old-town feel of the North Shore.

– The way coconut trees stand high and sway in the breeze in the early evening skies, bringing a sense of peacefulness and familiarity no matter how caught up in things I might be.

– The early morning calls of birds that are sometimes annoying, but just wouldn’t be the same if they weren’t there.

– The way people take their time when they drive places. The way drivers let each other go even if they have the right-of-way, something that would confuse the heck out of people if you tried it on the mainland. The way drivers thank each other to the extent that can’t be found on the mainland.

– The way shorts and slippers are considered acceptable attire pretty much anywhere. The way girls don’t need special occasions to wear flowers in their hair.

– The way local businesses make sure they take good care of their customers. The way non-local business are forced to cater to the local population, more so than I’ve seen in any other state, because if they didn’t, they would lose significant business. Businesses signs that stand in front of their store may fade easily in the hot Hawaiian sun, but their character doesn’t.

– The way schools are built so that even when you’re in a classroom, you kinda feel as if you’re still outdoors. It’s a stark contrast from schools on the mainland.

– The way people hug instead of handshake. The way shakas are acceptable alternatives to waving.

– The way people speak a mixture of many different languages, yet pretty much everyone knows what everyone else is saying.

– The way locals pronounce words (for example: “today” = “taday,”) in a pretty, almost sing-song tone.

– The way people have parties and expect a variety of good food, instead of the usual haole style of hamburgers, chips, and watermelon. When I was growing up in Hawaii, after every baseball game our team would have a huge potluck with pretty much any kind of food you could ask for: rice, fried chicken, beef teriyaki, noodles, mac salad, manapua, andagi, ect. Guess what I got after baseball games in Washington? A fruit roll up and a Caprisun. (But enough about the food. That’s a subject for it’s own time.)

– The way some people from Hawaii will see me when I’m on the mainland, and without me having said a word to them, they instantly know where I’m from, saying, “Eh, you from Hawaii?” I ask them how they knew, and they say, “You just look like it.”

– The general attitude of the people here that is aloof, but happy, and caring.

– The overall people and culture of the islands, a mixture of so many different cultures, it’s impossible to find anywhere else. Hawaii has a unique character all to itself.

Not everyone raised in Hawaii is so happy to be here. If you ask them why they want to leave (or why they left), most will tell you, “It’s too small.”

I don’t blame them for wanting to see new places. You can not drive endlessly like you can on the mainland. But on the mainland you can come to one town and find that it’s pretty much the same as any other. It’s a suburban sprawl.

When you have endless areas to explore, like on the mainland, you can always keep going. Tired of one area? Go on to the next.

You can’t do that in Hawaii. Each island may be small, but it is crammed full of such a wide array of people and culture that I think you could spend a lifetime getting to know them, and still find something new. The towns and neighborhoods are small, but each has it’s own unique traits.

It’s easy to get bored of an area after you’ve seen whatever there is to be seen, and done whatever there is to be done. That’s what happens when you look with just your eyes. But if you take the time to get to know the people and cultures around you – not just passively, but really getting to know them – you will never be bored.

As I heard one local Hawaiian say, most people who live in Hawaii are not of Native Hawaiian descent, but we are all Hawaiian.

A lot of mainlanders who move to Hawaii have trouble adjusting. I can see why. The culture is significantly different. On the mainland people tend to keep to themselves more. In Hawaii, if you do that, people will recognize you as a mainlander, not a true Hawaiian, no matter how long you may have lived here. But they will always be ready to welcome you with open arms whenever you decide to open up.

It’s the Spirit of Aloha, the meaning of Ohana. If you don’t know what those words mean, you can look them up, or ask someone. But knowing their definition is not the same as knowing what they really mean. You can live in Hawaii all your life and never know their true meaning. It’s a sense of family, a sense of belonging. It’s caring about people who may be complete strangers, because everyone here is connected in some way since we are all Hawaiian. It’s like when you’re on a flight back to Hawaii, and as the plane begins its descent into Honolulu International Airport the stewardess says over the intercom, “And for you returning residents, welcome home.” Little things like that that make you feel forever tied to the islands, no matter how long you may have been away.

Not everything about Hawaii is so glamorous. It is crowded. The traffic is terrible. The crime rate is high. There are lots of homeless. Drugs are prevalent. (It’s quite likely that some of your happy-go-lucky neighbors are happy because they’re growing drugs.) The education system is out of date. Businesses are slowly being overrun by rich mainlanders who are buying out locally owned businesses. Everything here is expensive.

Maybe Hawaii isn’t really all that great a place to live. But it is great for me.

After four years passed in Washington, I still didn’t really achieve the things I set out to do. I accomplished a lot, but not everything. My plan was not to return to Hawaii until I had accomplished what I wanted. But things were going downhill for me over there and I figured a visit to Hawaii would do me good. It was just supposed to be a visit, just for a week or so. But the moment I got here I realized that I was here to stay.

There were some things in Washington that I know I could have handled better. Yeah, I missed Hawaii. Yeah, being stuck in Seattle for years when I thought it would only be a few months was unexpected and difficult. Yeah, maybe some things didn’t go my way. Even after having come back to Hawaii, for months I was still bitter and cynical. It’s taken some time for me to get over that. But I could have had a better attitude. It wasn’t Washington that made me unhappy, and it wasn’t even anything that happened there. It was just me.

Washington is a great state, and I’m proud to have it as a secondary home. However, I will try to avoid visiting during the winter.

I will have to travel a lot in order to achieve my dreams. To live an easy life in a quiet town might be nice, but it isn’t in the cards for me. I was meant to see the world, the good and the bad, the beauty and the suffering, and I was meant to do something about it.

I may be away for months, even years at a time. But no matter how long I may be gone, no matter what awe-inspiring places I might see, no matter what amazing people I may meet, Hawaii, first and foremost, will always be home.

 

I’m Rob Kajiwara. Wherever I am, I’m always at home. Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Those who dream in black and white

When I was a little kid I had this reoccurring dream. I dreamt of being in a strange world where I had to climb to the top of a very tall mountain filled with barriers floating in a purple sky. There was a meter posted where I could always see it, keeping track of the amount of progress I made. I’d make it a good distance to the top before something would go catastrophically wrong, I’d go crashing to the bottom, and the meter would drop back to zero. I’d be so unspeakably sad about all the lost progress. I’d look at the meter and the mountain and think, “How can I ever make it now?”

I’d wake up sweating and breathing hard, unable to fall back asleep, and feeling terrible about myself.

I had that dream many times. Asleep, I never did reach the top of that mountain. But then I realized it was meant for me to reach while awake, and after that, I never had that dream again.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day*. Dr. King was someone who had a dream, and he brought that dream to everyone. He knew that chasing the dream was neither easy nor safe, but it needed to be done. He knew that not everyone thought his dream was possible, and not everyone thought it worth pursuing. He knew there would be fierce opposition. He stood up, when others backed down, and he died making that dream come true.

Back when he was still chasing his dream, there were many people who did not believe in what he was doing. “It’s impossible,” they said.

Now a lot of people say, “It was inevitable. How could it have ever been any other way? People like him are just meant to do things like that.” Sometimes I think people forget, or just don’t realize, what it takes to make a dream happen.

When I was little, I dreamt of a lot of things. I dreamt of being rich and famous, so I could buy everything I wanted, and then I’d give my money to the poor people of the world so they could buy everything they wanted too. When you’re a little kid, you don’t know any better but to follow your dreams. I guess I never grew up, because that’s still what I do. I dream when I’m asleep, and I dream when I’m awake. The only difference between the two is that while awake I can turn those dreams into reality.

Martin Luther King Jr. is one of my favorite people in history. Most people assume that, since I do writing and music, my favorite people would be writers and musicians, not a civil rights activist. But if you think like that, you are completely missing the point.

Yes, Dr. King was a civil rights leader. But he was more than that. He was a dreamer.

Things like writing and music, in and of themselves, are not really important. It’s all about how you use it that gives it any importance. In everything I do, there is a bigger picture. I’m not really a writer. I’m not really a musician either. I’m a dreamer, and I seek to make dreams come true.

My mom always wanted me to be a doctor. She, along with a lot of people, thinks the things I’m doing now are not practical or useful, and that I’m wasting my time, and wasting my life. These people continue to try and persuade me to change course. But they don’t see the whole picture.

The idea of being a doctor, of having someone’s life in my hands, does not daunt me at all. I think I could handle it rather well. It’s pretty cut and dry. You go through years of training, and you know exactly what needs to be done. I’m sure it isn’t easy at all. But I’ve never been satisfied with things that were.

What does scare me, though, is the idea of not doing something I was meant to.

I don’t think it’s my place to be a doctor, because I wouldn’t be helping as many people as I think I should, in the ways I think I should. This isn’t a knock against doctors. If I end up helping people as much as any given doctor does, I’ll consider it an accomplishment. But I think there are plenty of good doctors out there, which is exactly why I don’t think it’s my path to be one. I need to do the things that no one else is doing, the things that no one else realizes needs to be done, or perhaps, the things that some people realize needs to be done but don’t know how to achieve them.

Dreams, when meant to please yourself, may or may not be worth pursuing. But when dreams can influence the world around you, when they can inspire people to achieve more than they thought they could, when they can give a better life to those less fortunate, how can you deny it? I’ll go so far as to say that veering from your dream would be doing a disservice to those around you, the same people who think you’re doing a disservice to yourself by ‘wasting your time’ chasing dreams. It is your job to bring the dream to those who don’t understand it.

I talk a lot about success. People seem to think that by success, I mean money. So they say, “You should win the lottery! Then you’d be happy, right?”

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Money means nothing to me. It’s a means to an end. It’s a useful, and sometimes necessary tool. If I had a lot of money, I’m sure I could find a way to put it to good use. But if I ever get rich, I will give most of it away. I don’t need it, and I don’t want it.

I do not measure success in terms of money, but in terms of the influence I’ve had upon others. Money can help you be influential. But in itself, money means nothing. It’s all about how you use it.

Material things are not what I want, for those present just passing satisfaction. What I want is a legacy.

I dream of making an impact. I dream of changing the world. I have many dreams, but ultimately, the biggest dream is of a world free of poverty, disease, and hate. I may never see these dreams come true. But that’s not going to stop me from trying. I’m not afraid of failing, only afraid of never having tried.

“Those are great things to say and all, but how can they really be accomplished?” I bet that’s what you’re thinking. And if you’re not, you probably should be. A dream is worth nothing unless you realize how to bring it to life.

It isn’t enough just to chase dreams. You have to be pragmatic about it. Like a tree, you have to have your roots grounded deep into the earth, for that is the base of which you will grow off of. But there is no limit to how high you can grow. Dreamers are not usually thought of as also being realistic. But it’s absolutely necessary to be grounded in reality in order to make dreams come true, or you’ll find your dreams are nothing more than nice thoughts.

Regarding the things I’m doing, no one really sees the big picture. They don’t understand why I go about things the way I do, and they don’t understand how I think I can make an impact. But that’s fine. I can’t really explain it to you, because my words fall short. But I can show you a little bit at a time.

Whenever I should die, be it today, or a hundred years from now, I don’t want anyone to be sad. My life is not important. The influence I’ve had upon others is.

I’m not afraid to die, only afraid to die leaving behind a meaningless life, to die not having fulfilled something I was able to, something I should have, something I was meant to. That would be a tragedy.

I will never stop chasing dreams. After one dream has been accomplished, there will be the next. There will always be another. This world is too imperfect, this universe too big, and this life too intriguing, to ever stop.

If I should live a short life, I want to leave it having achieved as much as I could have with the time I was given. And if I should be fortunate enough to be alive a hundred years from now, you will find me still chasing dreams.

But no matter what I may achieve, I know I’ll never be amazing. I’m not talented in any way, shape, or form. I never have been, and I never will be.

The only thing I’ve ever been truly good at is not knowing my own limitations. Because of that, I’m not afraid to try something people think is impossible. There is nothing special about me. I’m an ordinary guy who has extraordinary dreams, and I look for ways to make those dreams reality. I might be too stupid to realize how difficult things really are. But I’m also too stubborn to give up.

I may not be able to achieve something on the magnitude of what Martin Luther King Jr. did. But I’m sure going to try my best to make the biggest difference I can.

Those who dream in black and white find their dreams too mundane to be worth pursuing. But those who believe in the vibrancy of their dreams, who believe the unbelievable, who chase what others think is impossible, who practice what others say is impractical, who realize what others thought was unreal; those are the people who become unforgettable, as their legacy continues long after their mortal bodies fade away.

Dream as big as you want, or dream of accomplishing things on a smaller scale. It doesn’t really matter how big your dream is, as long as it’s contributing in some positive way. This is how you can make a difference in the world. And in doing so, you will build a legacy for yourself.

But you’ll find me, always, chasing the biggest dreams. There is no limit to how much you can achieve, only to how much you think you can.

Do not be discouraged by what others say. They will try to lead you away from your dreams, not usually to be antagonizing, but because they think they are helping you. Those you think may be against you, really are not. Most of them are with you, they just don’t realize it yet.

Once the dream is made real, they will applaud it. Don’t hold grudges, for they will only weigh you down. You can’t expect people to see the same vision as you, or dream the same dreams. If everyone did, it wouldn’t be a dream.

Dreams are there for anyone who seeks them. A legacy is there for anyone who wants it. Do not be afraid to dream awake, and do not be afraid to make those dreams come true. People may call you a dreamer, they may call you unrealistic, they may call you naïve, but once you show them that the dream is both necessary and within reach, they will call you a fighter.

Anyone can dream. It’s very simple. Don’t be intimidated. If you don’t already have a dream, think about what you want. Don’t know what you want? Think about what you can do for others.

If you already have a dream, why not pursue it? It doesn’t have to be something as ambitious as saving the world. Even the smallest dreams are worth pursuing when it helps someone in some small way, because in that way, you are making a difference.

And if you are already chasing dreams, don’t give up. Your efforts will be appreciated someday.

So if in your dreams you should happen to see a little kid climbing his purple mountain, do not help him when he falls. He doesn’t want you to feel sorry for him. He wants to show you how much he can achieve. He will get back up, start from scratch, and reach the top. And from there he will see his next dream.

 

I’m Rob Kajiwara, dreamer of things that never were. Thanks for reading.

Obligations & Commitments

Every Christmas my mom makes calendars using family photos taken throughout that year, and she sends these to the grandparents, and to the relatives who don’t have children of their own. And every year there’s a family Christmas photo to go along with it.

Being apart of the family Christmas photo was something I was prepared not to miss. You see, the photos are always terrible. We, as a family, are pretty much incapable of taking a good picture together.

The youngest of my brothers gives a big, cheesy smile, and opens his eyes extra wide, looking like a deer in headlights. My two middle brothers have a long-standing heated rivalry. While we’re posing for the picture, the older one will inevitably poke fun at the younger one, which is sorta like North Korea bombing South Korea: everyone tries to intervene, but really, there’s not much anyone can do; this is a problem only the two of them can deal with. They go at it, verbally, and physically, but the older one always wins, and finally my middle brother leaves.

Then we have my sister. Honestly, she is the only one who looks good in the pictures.

Then there’s me. “Mr. No-Smile,” “Mr. Thinks-he’s-too-cool-to-smile.” Or, as my parents call me, “Mr. We-spent-thousands-of-dollars-on-braces-for-you-and-you-can’t-even-give-us-a-smile?” I don’t like smiling in pictures. It feels awkward and forced.

Now that I’m away from the family again, my mom sent me one of the calenders. I looked at the Christmas card and who did I see? My sister’s boyfriend. Standing in my place.

The neighbors next door were playing their music very loudly again, and this was the song they were playing:  O Fortuna: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xscsuuKF6ZE&feature=related

I thought it fit the mood perfectly.

Obviously it’s over-dramatic, so I’m just joking. But I was pretty mad, though I can’t say it was entirely unexpected. My mom had long been including him in more and more family-only traditions, but this time she went too far. It’s a family photo. He shouldn’t be there. I said it was inappropriate. My grandma called it, “premature,” and my grandpa called it, “ridiculous.”

When things don’t go your way, it’s easy to get mad and blame people, so instead I decided to look at what I did to contribute to this outcome. For one, I’m an ocean away, so I obviously couldn’t have been in the picture. But that’s not the point.

You see, my sister is only two years younger than me, but we’ve never been close. Growing up, she’d never been interested in my interests, and I’d never been interested in hers. That’s how it’s always been. We’d never really talk or anything. We would just keep to ourselves. We’ve always had separate friends. I don’t think we’ve ever had even one mutual friend. Our rooms were right next to each other, but we grew up a world apart.

Being older than her, it’s really my job to break uncomfortable barriers and set the tone for our sibling relationship. The tone I set? Monotone.

I just never had time to be interested in her. I’ve always been ambitious and focused, setting high goals, and constantly working to achieve them. She’s never understood my dreams, and when I’d ask about hers, she’d say, “I don’t know.” I’d try to help her figure out what she wanted to do, but she just never came up with anything.

I started thinking, if a random person came up to her and asked, “What is your older brother like?” what would she say? Knowing how kind she is, she’d probably say something nice about me. But the real question should be, “How has your older brother treated you, his younger sister?”

She’d probably say, “Well…he’s kind of a jerk.”

It’s true. I can be a jerk sometimes, and my sister has probably been on the receiving end of my jerky-moments more than anyone. Our family has high standards, and whenever my sister hasn’t met those standards I’ve always been there to make sure she knew. But I didn’t really offer support. I would just deride her and make her feel bad. That’s kind of how my family encourages each other: make fun of each other when we screw up, that way we don’t screw up very often. It works to an extent, but that doesn’t make it the right way to encourage.

Now, about my sister’s boyfriend. Whenever I have to mention him, it’s never “my sister’s boyfriend,” it’s, “my sister’s ugly boyfriend,” or, “my sister’s stupid boyfriend,” or “my sister’s lazy boyfriend,” ect. What can I say? I like to be descriptive.

Why do I dislike him? Because he’s lazy. He’s not polite. He never really says anything. He never really does anything. He doesn’t ever help with anything. He’s just there. Taking up space. In our living room. And in my sister’s heart.

For example, when my sister was moving into her apartment, my family was there to help, and my sister’s boyfriend was there, sitting on the couch, watching football. My grandma looked at him and wondered why he wasn’t helping.

My sister said, “He’s taking a break. He was helping before you guys got here.” A break? Seriously? It’s not that big of an apartment. Having to make excuses for someone in what is supposed to be an “established” relationship is not a good sign.

My mom says he’s shy. I’m not exactly the most out-going person either. If someone is shy, it can be endearing. But if someone is overly shy, and rebukes attempts at conversation, it’s just frustrating. This guy wants to be part of the family? He should be the one trying to build good relations with me, not the other way around.

My dad, being the calm, collected, patient leader that he is, doesn’t say anything, but I can tell he isn’t thrilled about the guy. My mom refuses to say anything negative about Mr. Boyfriend because she’s worried it’ll cause a rift in our happy family, but I can tell she wishes he was more…talkative, assertive, confident, ect.

The thing is, I know my sister is only with him because she doesn’t want to be alone. 15 years from now, he’s gonna be fat and old, sitting on the couch watching football, while my sister takes care of the kids and the house and cooks and works. She might like him now, but is she going to like him then?

One night I tried to intervene with my sister. And by intervene I mean = try to get her to break up with him. I know I should mind my own business, but I am her older brother, so it is my business. Besides, this is exactly what the problem has been with my relationship with her all our lives: I’ve been only too happy to leave her on her own.

My plan was to calmly talk to her, but what really came out was something like, “Your family hates your boyfriend! You need to get rid of him!”

Needless to say, it didn’t go well. I’ll admit my approach wasn’t very good. It could have been thought out much better. At first she was furious, but later, I think she actually thought it was kind of sweet how I was trying to look out for her.

She didn’t say it, but if I were her I’d be thinking, “You’ve neglected me all my life and NOW you want to tell me what to do?”

Subconsciously, what really upsets me isn’t so much the fact that my sister’s boyfriend is standing in my spot in the Christmas picture, but the fact that he, the guy that I’ve been calling ugly all this time, bears a stark resemblance to me. There he is, not smiling, looking like he could care less if he were there or not. We don’t really look alike, but we look alike just enough so that our elderly relatives, when looking at a tiny Christmas card, might just mistake him for me and not even notice I’m not there.

Diving deeper into it, could it be that the things I dislike about my sister’s boyfriend are things that I also do to a certain extent?

The bottom line for me disliking him is because I don’t think he’s very good to my sister now, and I don’t think he will make enough changes to good be in the future. But I’ve never been very good to my sister either. So who am I to talk?

Sure, there were a few instances when I was there for her when she really needed it. But those moments were few and far between. When you’ve known someone for their entire life, you’d really expect more, wouldn’t you? After all this time, I don’t think my sister expects a whole lot of support from me.

I’ve always been very focused on the things that I want to do, the goals I want to achieve, and the people I want to help. But I’ve neglected certain people close to me. People who looked up to me, who expected me to be there for them, and I let them down.

This is the difference between being obligated, and being committed. When you’re obligated to someone, you do things for them, but only if you have to, and only when it’s convenient for you. When you’re committed to someone, you do things for them because you want to.

Being committed to someone means to act in greater love towards them. That means getting to know them when you would rather keep to yourself and focus on your own things. It means remaining calm and patient when they are angry at you. It means finding compassion when you feel they’ve made a mistake. It means forgiving when you feel you’ve been wronged. It means continuing to forgive when you feel you’ve been wronged many times. It means being genuinely interested in their well-being. It means not giving up on them, even if they’ve given up on you.

When you’re genuinely interested in someone, you have no problem going out of your way to do things for them. Not having time is no excuse. Everybody has the same amount of time. It’s all about how you choose to use it.

Everything I’ve ever done for my sister in her entire life has been through an obligation. From now on, it will be through a commitment.

Some of us make commitments to certain people who are important to us. But if we make commitments to everyone we come across in our lives, we can better shape the world around us. It isn’t difficult. It doesn’t take a lot of time, just a little love. It’s really just a state of mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. We can step out of our own little world, and make an impact in someone else’s. Then perhaps they too will be committed to others. In this way we might just be able to be the change we want to see in the world.

And about that picture with my sister’s boyfriend in it. When I asked my dad about it, he explained it to me in baseball-lingo, so I’d understand better: “We haven’t signed him to a long-term contract yet. He’s still trying to make the team.”

I don’t normally make New Years resolutions, but these seemed appropriate:

New Years Resolution #1:

Strengthen bond with my sister, even though we’re 2,000 miles apart.

New Years Resolution #2:

Smile more.

I’m Rob Kajiwara. Thanks for reading.

ADDENDUM:

I have to make one thing clear about my sister’s boyfriend. He’s probably going to be my brother-in-law someday, and even if he isn’t, I want to make it clear that I don’t actually think he’s ugly or stupid or lazy. Actually, I do think he’s lazy, but I can be lazy too sometimes. He’s not ugly at all. I guess he’s a good looking guy. Not that I really know what good looking guys are. He’s kinda tall, athletically built, and has good facial features. I can’t say if he’s stupid or not, since I really don’t know the guy well. See, it’s my job to give my sister’s boyfriend a difficult time. It’s what older brothers are for. If he can deal with me, then I guess he’ll be good enough for my sister. And anyway, leaders bring out the best in people. I see myself as a leader, so I should be able to bring out the best in him, too.