Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Long Deferred Privilege

 Having gone to bed unreasonably early, it wasn’t a surprise when I woke up promptly at 4:00 am.  I made myself stay in bed another hour, trying to compromise as much as possible between time zones. Why compromise? Why not just keep to my own schedule even in a new place? Because I would get up at 2:00 am and go to bed before sundown, that’s why! Not the best way to maximize a tropical respite.

With only 6 days on the ground, we planned to make the most of every minute. But ah, the best laid plans of mice and women… First, we reckoned without several days’ worth of getting lost. We also hadn’t accounted for the possibility of a hurricane.

By the time the wheels went up on our Hawaiian Airlines jet, we already knew that the storm currently known as Tropical Storm Ana would impact our plans, and might even strengthen into a hurricane. Forecasters weren’t entirely sure about the timing, but it looked like we could only be sure of one full day and a few hours of the next for any swimming or other outdoor activities. So we wanted to be out and about early.

David wanted to leave by 6:30, so we were all up early. At 6:32, horrified that my dawdling had already caused me to be 2 minutes late, I put on my backpack, said good-bye to Mom and Tina, and went out. I thought David would just leave with whoever was ready first (me!) and the rest would follow after a few minutes. Well, he was still waiting 20 minutes or so later, when I finally went back up to see what was keeping them. “We were waiting for you!” they exclaimed.

So we got lost 20 minutes later than we would’ve otherwise.
First stop, Pearl Harbor. That one was pretty easy to find. It was our first time out on the Arizona Memorial, a sobering reminder of war, death, and heroism. It also put Grandma’s and Grandpa’s lives into a little more perspective, since they came to teach in Hawaii only 11 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

At a time when anti-Japanese sentiment was still high, they invited numerous students into their home without asking to see their passports first. Many of those students, now grown and with their own families and even grandchildren, became so much a part of the family that they’re still our aunties, uncles, and cousins (and always will be!). We delighted in the mystification of our classmates when they saw us with our cousins, since we didn’t look any sort of Asian at all. These American genetics can be tricky things!
It all just goes to show that love is thicker than water or blood.

The Arizona Memorial sank just off Ford Island, which was another heavily bombed area. I didn’t realize so many locations were hit and some of them twice. The boilers still rise above the water, and cute little tropical fish still swim only a few feet from the bubbles of oil that rise to the surface every few seconds, then spread in a rainbow ripple that drifts out to sea.

That one site is a burial place for not only the thousands that died that day, some in the explosions and some trapped in unreachable pockets of dwindling air, but also for many of their fellow servicemen who died as elderly veterans, and chose to be cremated so they could rejoin their friends.

Memorial Chapel
It’s a peaceful place today, with only a few stark, rusted reminders of the violence and death that warm December day. Over the shadow of the great ship float the scattered petals of pink plumerias, bobbing their way around the spots of oil as they journey to the Pacific. Each day, Japanese and Americans stand side by side to silently honor the dead. It’s a far cry from those not-so-long-ago days of surprise attack, death, suspicion, and egregious civil rights violations of our own citizens. The lessons are still there for us to learn, of what the finest nation on earth is willing to do in the name of fear. 
And how much has changed since then. At least back then, the lines in the conflict were clear-cut. Each side knew whom they were fighting. There was a clear-cut goal, and a well-defined victory. Where today the enemy hides among us, among our allies, often concealing themselves among women and children, and can’t be fought or defeated using the old standards of warfare. Where, indeed, there isn’t even any way to be sure that we’ve won, or ever can win. And the greatest weapon isn’t guns or bombs, but stark terror.

Definitely a quiet, thought-provoking place. 

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