Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Fast-Day Contemplations, No Longer in Paradise

It's a Jewish fast-day, the Tenth of the month of Tevet, when Jews around the world refrain from food and drink from before sunup to full-dark in mourning for events leading to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem-- but more crucially, to rouse us to repentance in order to avert the need for God's response. I have plenty requiring my correction and improvement, and longing for my hot mocha, as the wind whooshes the enormous Douglas Firs so hard they sway, is a potent motivator.

The stormy weather--rainy and churning to the point that I just saw a bald eagle swooping before my window struggling to dodge the drafts--while better than snow, reminds me how precarious things remain. My son's school lost power, (I had to go pick him up) and we, situated where any blustery gust cuts our electricity, are likely to require down comforters and a crackling fire tonight.

My adrenaline, watching the trees pitch and sigh, at least deters my hunger.

I finally uploaded my Hawaii vacation photos, and the contrast between the benign warmth of Honolulu, 80 degrees both day and night, and the lashing wind and gauzy rain-sheets that form our view here, is striking. Much easier to repent in a fearsome storm than with the soothing turquoise surf, and occasional warm drizzle that offers a rainbow bonus. Where weather is tough, life is serious. In Hawaii--ho, brah, bodda you?

Which brings me to Barack Obama, my neighbor on Oahu during our vacation. While I was there, I read several letters in the local newspaper, the Honolulu Advertiser, complaining that he has disowned his taro roots. He arrived wearing a Chicago Cubs baseball hat, and was never seen wearing an Aloha shirt. He seems to have dumped his non-racist, easy-going Hawaiian style to identify with the black culture of Reverend Wright, where darker-skinned people are victims.

That's not the way it is in Hawaii, where whites are derogatorily called "haoles" and 58.4% of the births are classified by the Hawaii Department of Health (table 2.07) as "mixed race." Further Hawaiian government statistics (table 2.39) show that 55.5% of marriages where at least one partner is a Hawaii resident involve spouses of differing races. In other words, Barack Obama would have felt quite comfortable in his own skin, growing up where shades of brown include every hue, and plenty of folk buy "Maui Babe" brown sugar tanner to increase the sun's effect.

We were delighted to spend some time with our dear friends, the husband part-Hawaiian, the wife white, with two adopted daughters, one Japanese-Filipino, the other a mixture of black and white. The family is just that--connected by love and faith; skin color just disappears.

President-elect Obama spent his formative years in the one place in America where race is truly not an issue, and yet--it wasn't his varied and lengthy experience that won him the Presidency. He wasn't a poor kid from the Chicago 'hood he adopted, but rather attended an elite private school while living with his white grandmother, who was a Vice President of the Bank of Hawaii. With such a pleasant environment in which to live, you'd think he'd choose to wear aloha prints, at least when he returns to his blessedly balmy homeland.

I'll confess that while in Hawaii, I didn't miss my home at all. Here I wear thermal underwear, turtleneck, fleece and carcoat--in the house (even as I write this). There, the air caresses my skin, emanating the fragrance of tropic sunblock: coconut, pikake, plumeria. We took a drive around the island to the North Shore, visiting friends who share with their neighbors a beautiful, empty beach, and to a macadamia nut plantation where lush ginger lined the valley and pothos with leaves the size of a skillet snaked up palm trunks. We drove across the Pali, the stark mountain range that rises like a green dinosaur spine shrouded at the top in mysterious mist. It's paradise, brah.

I'm sure those who live there confront the same problems the rest of us do. But they get to do it wearing a muu-muu, while I'm strangling from this knit scarf twisted around my turtleneck. They get to swim with their turtles. Still, there's always something comforting about coming home, and now that the snow is melted and my husband's raving that the thermometer is up to 49 degrees, perhaps things are looking up. I do have much to be grateful for, and much work to do. And hey, it's almost time to eat!


  1. Gotta love the thermal underwear! I'm sitting in them at work, too.

    Uguu, I would love a Hawaiian trip right now! I'm about due for one. I think I'll save up my vacation days for something grand next winter. I'm sure returning to the wonderfully flooded Northwest is always a good feeling.

  2. Uguu, Cam! And I appreciate that you read my blog at work. Me, too.