“You like spaghetti, George? I like spaghetti. I like board games. I like grabbing a trifecta with that long shot on top… that ozone smell you get from air purifiers… and I like knowing the space between my ears is immeasurable… Mahler’s first, Bernstein conducting. You’ve got to think about all the things you like and decide whether they’re worth sticking around for. And if they are, you’ll find a way to do this.”– Mandy Patinkin in Dead Like Me
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in America. When I think of Thanksgiving, I often recall day trips to Plymouth historical sites, visits on the Mayflower II, high school football in Massachusetts, and, of course, the family get-together. The thing is, a couple of the best November’s I have had were spent, with my wife, on the island of Oahu, where we lived for a short time. That first year in Hawaii, Thanksgiving was with my mother and brother, who visited us. Together, we celebrated in a way we didn’t in Massachusetts, on a lanai with views of the Pacific Ocean. The second was with our friends Colleen and Don at their Mililani home. Our last was on a cruise ship voyaging around the Hawaiian Islands, with the actual day celebrated with amazing views of the Napali Coast. Three unique Thanksgivings in a place I genuinely consider home.
I often think of those three years living in Hawaii with my wife and dog, Mr. Tuttles. Thanksgiving always makes me reflect on the past, so it makes sense that, after several years away, I use this holiday as an opportunity to look towards Hawaii with a reflective gaze. Those may be, when all is said and done, three of the most rewarding years of my life. Born and raised near the ocean on the South Coast of Massachusetts, I never dreamed my journey would bring me to the Hawaiian Islands. This disbelief is valid for travel, let alone relocating, meeting new friends, and becoming filled with feelings of Aloha. The title of this post is a Hawaiian saying that translates as, “Dare to dance, leave shame at home,” loosely meaning, “Just be you.” I am thankful to Hawaii for teaching me to, well, just be me.
Reflecting on a Moment
“Stop thinking how ridiculous it is, and start asking yourself whether or not you believe it’s going to work. That’s why it is called a ‘leap of faith’.”– Fionnula Flanagan in Lost
I am, as my blog illustrates, a somewhat reflective person. When listening to music or sitting outside with the trees swaying, I frequently think of where I have been, and all my eyes have seen. Those three years in Hawaii were not easy. My wife and I lived thousands of miles away from our loved ones, and I had challenging studies to which I devoted myself almost 24/7. Yet, my reflective personality was born on the island of Oahu, and there is not a day goes by I do not think of my time there and how different I am today than when I first stepped off the plane in Honolulu. As I head to a Thanksgiving holiday, which, because of the pandemic, looks nothing like years past, I felt it was time to explore those moments and people that shaped my Hawaii experience.
I remember, in 2010, living in Massachusetts and coming home from a vacation to Florida, where I visited my dad. My wife and I had been traveling for what seemed like days. Home, finally, we walked into the main lobby of our apartment building to pick up our mail. The month was March, and I was waiting to hear from a couple of colleges/universities about my application status to several History programs. For a few years, I had found it difficult applying to programs around the New England area, so this year, 2009/2010, I decided to branch out. I applied to particular programs with a fine-tuned research aim tailored to working with specific colleges/universities’ faculty members. So far, it had not helped. That was until that day. I retrieved the mail and noticed a letter from the University of Hawaii. I quickly, without care, ripped into it, feeling positive, and began reading. “Congratulations…Accepted,” it said, and I thought, finally. I would eventually get accepted to a few programs around the country, but ultimately realized I didn’t have a choice at all. We were moving to Hawaii!
I can’t imagine having gone anywhere else. The program in Hawaii was designed perfectly for me. I wanted to study memory, maritime history, and explore, as a minor, Pacific Islands history. All of those topics were significant components of the program in Hawaii. My goal of diving into collective historical memory was supported by one of the most impactful people I have ever met. Dr. Robert McGlone, who I have mentioned in previous blog posts, was my dissertation committee’s chair, advisor, mentor, and eventually, friend. He made my journey through the program manageable, enjoyable, and successful. In those three years, he was a face of consistency and guidance. It was a perfect match, as together we worked through challenges in my research. He came to see a unique type of historical methodology unfold in front of him, even though he was responsible for inspiring it.
To detour from my story, for one minute, if I may, I was reminded of him the other day. While reading “movie news,” I noticed a show on Showtime called The Good Lord Bird, which is starring Ethan Hawk as the infamous Abolitionist John Brown, who they called a “.44 Caliber Abolitionist,” which I admit I thought was inventive. I had heard about this show months prior, but I had utterly forgotten about it with the pandemic. You see, Dr. McGlone wrote a remarkable, award-nominated and winning book called John Brown’s War Against Slavery. He knew everything about the life and death of Abolitionist John Brown, and his book dove into who the man was, separating truth from speculation. I pondered what he would think of this “new” John Brown interpretation, what kind of insight he would provide, and I would ask him, jokingly, how his flight to LA was when he consulted on the film. We often spoke of movies, how they interpret, change, and sometimes diminish and often magnify the subject. He would have been pleased John Brown was getting his cinematic moment, but I assure you, he would have watched, taken notes, and without a doubt, had some things to say.
“It only ends once. Anything that happens before that is just progress.”– Mark Pellegrino in Lost
About a year after I graduated, completing my comprehensive exams, dissertation, dissertation defense, and a final read-through, I had the opportunity to travel to Hawaii, not as a resident, student, but instead as a tourist and friend. I was able to have lunch with Dr. McGlone, who, until the end, I couldn’t bring myself to refer to by his first name. It was a beautiful day in Hawaii, not unlike every day. Still, we made plans to get lunch at his favorite place. An eatery we had gone to often, together, to talk about my studies, my work, and he would always ask about my wife, who he gushed over repeatedly. We met at Subway. Yes, Subway! He loved it, the people who worked at the school’s location loved him, and I always looked forward to our time together chatting, eating, reflecting.
This day was similar to past days, but this time there was no dissertation to critique, no exams to prepare for, and well, nothing of consequence to discuss. We met at his office, an office I had gone to one million times before, and an office he still used, although he had retired shortly after my graduation. When I saw him this day, it was like no time had passed, although it had been about ten months since we had last seen each other. We shook hands, exchanged pleasantries, and asked how my wife was, and we smiled as he asked when we were going to have children. We walked over to Subway, discussing a topic I can barely remember now, only that I felt like I was home. Home, walking on the campus I used to explore daily. Home, walking with a man who had helped me, daily, on my professional quest.
We chatted for a while, and I honestly didn’t want the time to end. Even so, we finished our sandwiches, cookies, and chips, we got up, and walked, together, back to his office. I still remember the hundreds of books stacked on the bookshelves in his office and falling over each other on the ground. I remember I would sit in a chair between books piled from floor to ceiling, which seemed both new and old and I imagined could easily collapse at the slightest touch. But before we got to his office, he remembered he had to see another faculty member at a building in the opposite direction. He thanked me for meeting for lunch, and I thanked him as well. I promised I would be back in the summer and I would take him to this fantastic Italian restaurant where my wife and I had eaten after I passed my compressive examinations. He seemed excited and slightly eager for that meal. And like that, we walked in opposite directions. At one point, I turned my head slightly to the left and got a glimpse of Dr. McGlone as he shuffled further and further in the opposite direction. I felt both happy and sad instantly. That was the last time I saw Dr. McGlone before his passing. While I am sad, I am thankful for lunch at Subway that day and all the days before.
My Home, Hawaii
“George: Human beings are simple, predictable clichés. Broken hearts, betrayal, it’s all been done a billion times before. The problem is, every time still hurts like the first. And if you’re lucky enough to recover, you can be sure that just as you finish filling in all the cracks in your life, the next one is starting to open.”– Ellen Muth in Dead Like Me
My time in Hawaii was not incredibly long, but it left an impression, especially as it relates to my studies. After all, my life in Hawaii centered around school, meetings with Dr. McGlone, and reading upwards of four books per week, nearly fifty each semester. The university was my life, my reason for moving to Hawaii, and my classmates, professors, and Dr. McGlone were instrumental to those moments. It is hard not to be reflective of that time, to be so totally in, that today, at many times, I wish I could go back and do it all again, even all the readings, the exams, the ups and downs, everything. Of course, that’s impossible, but my reflective nature keeps me in the past, my historical training continues to force me to explore even my journey.
I see Hawaii as home. Even though most of our friends have moved away, excluding Colleen and Don, two of our best friends, who we met at a film festival and shared a Thanksgiving holiday with, I have this draw to those islands, particularly Oahu. That’s not to say my wife and I want to move back, not yet at least, but it is a place that feels more home than dozens of locations I have lived since high school and those cities and towns I called “home,” especially since meeting my wife. I mean, I can’t drive by a local poke restaurant without thinking of Hawaiian poke, hear J Boog or Common Kings without thinking of being in my car, windows down, driving along the Kamehameha Highway, or Kalaniana’ole Highway. I continuously think of swimming at Sandy Beach, Shave Ice on the North Shore, my emotional visit to Pearl Harbor National Memorial, learning what it meant when you observed a bumper sticker that read “Eddie Would Go,” snorkeling at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, and twice climbing Koko Crater and Diamond Head.
In those three years, my wife and I lived in four different locations. We stayed temporarily in Waikiki when we first relocated. I enjoyed this home, even though it was only for one month, as we planted our feet in Hawaiian soil and splashed in the waters of the Pacific Ocean for the first time. It will always hold a special place for me. In Waikiki, we learned what jet lag was! I remember almost falling asleep in my food while dining at a restaurant on Waikiki beach shortly after arriving. I don’t think I have ever been so tired. Waikiki was always a favorite location for us to visit, and our first impression set the tone for the next three years.
“So I just made a choice. I would let the fear in, let it take over, let it do thing. But only for five seconds. That’s all I was going to give it.”– Matthew Fox in Lost
After our month in Waikiki, we found a more permanent and lovely, one-bedroom apartment on a mountain ridge in an area called Wai’alae Iki V, which was an affluent area. Still, we mainly choose it because it was quiet, unique, and allowed dogs. Even so, it proved to be too far away from the college, the best parts of Hawaii, even if it was incredible to walk every day and have panoramic views of Diamond Head, Koko Crater, and the Pacific Ocean. The best part about our stay in Wai’alae Iki V had nothing to do with the location itself. Instead, living here was when we had the first opportunity to have loved ones visit. My brother Jeff and my mother visited us for Thanksgiving, as I mentioned earlier. We shared a fantastic memory of eating fresh turkey, sweet potatoes, and fixings of all sorts while in shorts and t-shirts outside under swaying palm trees. It was, still to this day, one of the best Thanksgivings I have ever had.
While the beauty of Wai’alae Iki V was incredible, the two-mile drive up the mountain ridge and down was tiring. After a year, we decided to move closer to the university and pretty much the best parts of what Hawaii offers. We eventually moved to Manoa, into a unique one-bedroom apartment across from the university. My wife walked to work, and I to the university. It was a perfect year, allowing me to spend each day reading, visiting my wife for lunch, and scheduling committee meetings. We loved this apartment. Out of our three years in Hawaii, this was probably the easiest. We walked to restaurants and shopping. We were a quick drive to the beach, sporting events, concerts, and our gym, which we had consistently attended. During this year, my wife’s family visited us, which provided us with much-needed family time. Soon after, she ran her first 5K and celebrated a milestone birthday by having a spa day at Aulani, a Disney Spa & Resort. While she enjoyed her day of rest, I watched the NFL playoffs at a poolside bar under a hot and relaxing Hawaiian sun. This year watched us travel to the Big Island of Hawaii, stay at Waikoloa Beach Resort, snorkel, and spend time creating incredible memories.
After a year, we moved a little further away from the university but into a hip place. Our last apartment was not too far away from Manoa; instead, we settled in a Honolulu section called Maikiki. If Manoa was the home I completed my comprehensive exams from, Maikiki was where I wrote my dissertation. It was a beautiful place, fully furnished with large windows with city views and breezes that I will not soon forget. Here, we met more friends, had late nights having fun, going to movies and holiday parties. From here, we finally took our honeymoon and ventured out on the Pride of America, a Norwegian Cruise Line ship docked in Honolulu. On it, we traveled to other islands, lived in the moment, and created memories to last a lifetime. On this ship, sailing in the Pacific where we celebrated our final Thanksgiving as residents of Hawaii.
Hawaii, My Heart
“You were all like me. You were all alone. You were looking for something you couldn’t find out there. I chose you because you needed this place as much as it needed you.”– Mark Pellegrino in Lost
Three years, four homes, each of them perfectly splendid and assisting a New York girl and Bay State guy get acclimated to a new home and new way of life. In those three years, we got married, and I learned to be an adult. You see, I had never gone away to college, never branched this far out on my own two feet, but, with my wife, I leaped at the chance to move to Hawaii and start a new life, new college, and unknown future, hoping that the net would appear. Not only did the net appear, but I learned not to rely on it. I carved out my way of being. Finally, I had the chance to develop academically and personally, not tied to anyone or anything back home. My wife and I took a massive leap, and the reward was a place we call home, a place we miss, a place that holds a special place in our hearts.
While living in Hawaii, I remember going to see The Descendants. This movie went on to win several Academy Awards, and I recall enjoying the film, George Clooney’s performance, and the dialogue and direction. There is a moment in the movie when the main character Matt King, played by Clooney, gives a profound statement. He said, “My friends on the mainland think just because I live in Hawaii, I live in paradise. Like a permanent vacation. We’re all just out here sipping Mai Tais, shaking our hips, and catching waves. Are they insane?” After a year in Hawaii, as I am sure those who have been in Hawaii much longer can say better than me, Hawaii is paradise, but it’s not a permanent vacation. I think of Hawaii as home, even though I spent such a short time there, because of the emotional connection I made with Oahu and the Hawaiian people’s traditions. According to my wife and me, it wasn’t a vacation. We loved it, we breathed it, we cried in it, and we struggled in it.
I have honestly been away from Hawaii longer than I was there. It seems the world has moved at the speed of light. The further away I get, the more a fading memory those years become and an experience whose teether frays. Those three years meant so much, as I am sure you are now well aware. But I refuse to lose touch entirely with them. I can’t forget the years my wife and I grew together. I can’t forget my daily meetings with Dr. McGlone, or the difficulties and triumphs of a graduate program I went through, or those who joined me, had coffee with me, and together we conquered our journey. I can’t lose touch with those brief, quiet, reflective moments floating in the Pacific Ocean in February or our last trip to see friends, visiting a Buddhist Temple, and having one more Subway sandwich with my mentor and friend.
“As you get older, the chance of making a really good new friend is probably about the same as being hit by a truck. And if you’re hit by a truck (which is to say, dead) the chances of making a good friend are even slimmer.”– Ellen Muth in Dead Like Me
This entire blog post is a little different, yet eerily the same as all my posts. Seeking to make sense of the past or present, and at the same time recognizing life’s lived moments. I have learned more about myself, things I enjoy, memories that remain so vivid and powerful since I started this blog. It’s an opportunity to persevere the memories I have and the things I enjoy. My LEGO builds, my half marathon races and travels, my journeys across the globe and back in time, all form a fraction of a life lived but also acknowledged.
My Hawaii life was short. Even so, it packed a powerful punch. On the eve of Thanksgiving in America, I reflect on those people, events, and university for their role in helping make Hawaii home and assisted me in, well, being me. Home is not acquainted with a specific amount of time, but, at least for me, it has everything to do with where I remember my life, as Idina Menzel sang in Wicked, “changed for the better.” Hawaii is paradise to me as a tourist, but it’s a second home to me, the alumni, the former resident, and someone who learned a lot for having leaped without worry whether the net was even there in the first place.