- From “The Alternative,” by Jim Harstad
One of the really good things about being old is having the leisure to think about all the noble things you did on the way here, your generous, sometimes courageous, contributions to a clearheaded, compassionate social ambiance, a world full of hope and promise.
The old man sat quietly on his lanai in Mililani, nursing a Big Swell IPA from Maui Brewing Company, gazing across the distance to the Waianae mountain range. The sun had just disappeared behind the mountains, painting the early evening sky in reds, pinks, and yellows, reminding him of an abstract painter at work. He liked the view, liked the beer, but most of all he liked the quiet peaceful atmosphere. The wind had died down, the usual cacophony of the birds in the huge Albesia tree next door was replaced by only occasional chatter. He took another sip of his beer. It went down smooth and the rather high alcohol content of the IPA gave him a hint of a light buzz. Just enough to feel good without getting drunk. Retirement has its privileges, he thought.
As he usually did during these introspective times, he thought back on his life. Memories and images popped into his mind in no particular order. One moment he was ten years old again, the next moment he was in his twenties, or thirties. He thought of his parents, long gone from this earth, but very much alive in his mind.
With a smile on his face he recalled Waimea Bay in his teens, jumping off the rock, timing the leap perfectly with the incoming waves. The front of the rock always reminded him a little bit of a turtle head. He remembered showing off in front of the girls and the tourists, laughing when the mainlanders missed the wave and landed on the sand. In his mind it was a short jump from Waimea Bay to Mililani High.
All through his senior year he tried to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. He definitely did not want to live from paycheck to paycheck like his dad who was an advertising salesman for local trade magazines. No, he wanted to do something worthwhile, something noble, something that would make the world a better place. He considered the medical field, social work, teaching, even engineering, figuring he could invent something that would make life easier for people. And if he could make a lot of money with it, he could use that money to do good. Like most teens he was dreaming big. But reality can be brutal, crushing dreams, unforgiving gravity pulling you down from these lofty heights.
I should have studied harder, the old man chuckled, instead of spending all my time trying to impress girls. But then he wondered if it would have made a difference. Life consists of thousands of little decisions that can have great consequences. Like how he met his future wife. His friends wanted him to come to a party, but he did not feel like going out, wanted to stay home since he had promised his mom to finally clean up the garage. But friends can be insistent and cleaning up a garage is a lot less fun than living it up at a party. So he went. The girl was sitting by herself. She had only moved to Mililani two weeks earlier and did not know anybody except for the girl who had invited her. He sat down beside her and they started to talk. By the end of the evening they were dancing and he went home clutching the paper with her phone number. If he had cleaned up the garage he might never have met her.
Or, how he found his calling more or less by accident. In church one Sunday, the minister had talked at length about service, service to others, and how that kind of life would be so much more fulfilling. He took the word ‘service’ to heart and became a waiter. That first job led to restaurant assistant manager, then manager, and finally owner. For years he had owned a small Chinese restaurant in Wahiawa. He did everything, cook, clean, and repair anything that needed fixing. His wife also did some of the cooking and cleaning as well as serving and answering the phone since take-out orders accounted for about half of his business. It was hard work, but he was happy. Giving people good food at reasonable prices felt like doing good. And what could be more noble than a chef preparing the perfect meal. The way he looked at it, he was a provider of happiness. As his dad had told him more than once: If you want to be happy, you need to eat well.
He took another sip of his beer and chuckled again. Although I did not become a doctor, teacher, or engineer, he mused, I nevertheless achieved the goals I set as a teen. Who knows, maybe my epitaph will be: He was a noble, generous, courageous, and compassionate cook.