Every day the girl sat in the garden and visualized her tremendous dreams for the future.
‘If only I could change and become the type of person who does all the things in my dreams,’ she thought.
‘I want to change,’ she thought.
(‘But I couldn’t do that.’)
‘I want to change.’
(‘But if I did that, everyone would be mad at me.’)
‘I want to change.’
(‘But it’s too hard.’)
‘I still want to change,’ she thought.
Day after day she sat in the garden, hoping for and resisting her dreams in equal measure. The flowers bloomed and the butterflies came and went.
Eventually she forgot about her desire for change. She forgot the dreaming, the hoping and the resistance to her own dreams. Instead she sat in the garden, loving the beauty of it.
Then one day, she grew up. She changed and became the type of person who did all the things in her dreams. It wasn’t difficult. All the days of dreaming and resisting the dreams had been difficult. When change finally happened, it was as easy as the smallest flutter of a butterfly’s wing.
“If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.” ~Author Unknown
Soon after The Wife of John the Baptist was published, I decided to enter it in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Competition. I wasn’t sure if I would win anything. After all, it seemed like a long-shot. Thousands of novels were entered and my novel was just one out of the many. It took the judges a long time to read through all the novels and I almost forgot about the contest entirely. Then one day, I received an email telling me that I had been selected as a semi-finalist. I was thrilled. Now my novel was one out of the few.
I’ll have to wait until July to find out if I won or not, but until then I’ll just be happy I made it this far. If you want to read the first few pages of the novel and submit a review, follow the link above and see my entry. I’ll look forward to hearing what you have to say.
I didn’t expect my life to change when I entered the sparsely-furnished, literature classroom at the Universidad de Veracruz in Xalapa, Mexico. The long-haired, political-activist professor who arrived late was a bit of a surprise, but that would pale in comparison to the stories and novels he was about to introduce us to.
We didn’t have any books. Instead the professor handed out faint, mimeographed pages containing the stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, master of magical realism and literary journalism. We read them aloud while our professor became increasingly animated in his enthusiasm, pausing only to push the hair from his eyes. As the stories came alive, we realized that this level of learning could not be contained to a bare and dusty classroom. Some of us accompanied the professor to a series of cafes around town, drinking beer until we were tipsy, talking for hours and filling our hungry souls with the delicious adventures of shipwrecked sailors, old Caribbean soldiers, ethereal beauties and the ghosts who coexist with the living only because they are too stubborn to succumb to death.
The world of magical realism was an epiphany and I suddenly realized that life was not the black and white, cut and dried reality I had learned in hometown America. A whole new world opened up in which the supernatural, the spiritual and the physical all coexisted in an exotic mélange that changed my view of life forever.
This epiphany was to set me on a lifelong pursuit for adventure, travel and opportunities to experience different cultures; a continual thirst to see the world through different eyes and to write about it. For the first time I had been given license to be the person I really wanted to be. The magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez had given me the freedom to soar.
When I ran home after class and told the senora in the house where I lived about my discovery, she handed me a succulent plateful of carne de res, arroz and the bright red flower petals known as colorin. I told her how wonderful it was to read about a world that was turned upside down but that made so much sense at the same time. She looked at me with a dry expression, “Es normal,” she said. “That’s how we all see the world.”
Her comments made me smile. I borrowed an antique typewriter and with senora’s blessing, I started writing my first, full-length novel on her kitchen table. The family’s elderly, maiden aunt, Tia Pilar showed up even before I was finished with page one. “I will keep you company while you finish your task,” she explained. “We will be like sisters every afternoon.” True to her word, she showed up each day to sit nearby fingering her rosary, while my own fingers tapped on the typewriter keys. She only stopped coming when I had finished the last page.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez opened my young mind to the unlimited possibilities of imagination, creativity and diverse cultural experience. It was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received and in a very real way it changed the course of my adult life forever. So today, as I pay homage to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I dust off my tattered copies of his books, open One Hundred Years of Solitude and begin to read. Here once again is the band of ragged gypsies who arrived in the mythical, Caribbean town of Macondo, bringing with them the learned alchemist, Melquiades. In turn, Melquiades brought the first magnets that anyone had ever seen in Macondo.
The gypsy dragged the enormous magnets behind him through the streets of the town while “pots, pans, tongs and braziers tumbled down from their places,” and followed him down the street.
“‘Things have a life of their own,’ the gypsy proclaimed with a harsh accent. ‘It’s simply a matter of waking up their souls.’”
My husband and I were always proud to have an ‘international marriage,’ as it was called in Japan. I was an American expat living in Tokyo and my husband was Japanese. Our marriage spanned two nations and two cultures and for us, it seemed ideal. Not long after we were married, we saw a TV documentary in which mixed-race children around the globe were interviewed about their experiences. In each case, the children complained bitterly about the lack of a single identity, about not knowing where they belonged, and about the racism they experienced from the races of both parents. There was only one exception, the young man who lived in Hawaii. Being from two cultures and two races was for him, the best thing in the world. He talked happily of having the best of both cultures, of speaking two languages, of celebrating all the festivals, of having the most fun and best of all, of eating a variety of delicious food. I turned to my husband and said, “If we have children, we’re moving to Hawaii.” He agreed.
When my daughter was born, we talked of moving often but it didn’t happen until we began the search for an elementary school. We spoke with many parents and children and while most were content with schools in Japan, there were several students who experienced serious bullying because of their mixed race heritage. Some were taken out of school to be home-schooled. Some were put into expensive, private international schools but the emotional scaring remained.
A few months later we moved to Maui. We told my daughter how lucky she was to have two cultures and two passports and how wonderful it was to be able to live on Maui and visit Japan. She embraced it all and like most of her new friends, she was proud to be Hapa, the Hawaiian word for half. As a family, we appreciated that all children in Hawaii are cherished and being Hapa was the most normal thing of all.
Most people think of Maui as a paradise because of its beautiful beaches and terrific weather. But for us, Maui was an island of wonderfully kind people living in a paradise of zero racism. Once we settled in, we breathed a collective sigh of relief. Not only was our diverse family accepted, we blended right in with everyone else.
Soon my daughter was inviting her new friends over to play in our condo pool. Her friends were from every possible combination of different backgrounds: Asian, Caucasian, Hawaiian, Tongan, African-American and Hispanic. Once in awhile my African-American neighbor would stop by and watch them play. “Your daughter and her friends are Martin Luther King’s dream come to life,” she once told me. And it was a beautiful sight to see, not just because of the children’s diversity, but because they had no idea that race mattered to anyone. They didn’t know what racism was, and didn’t learn about it until they were much older and studied it in school. Even then, it was a distant, historical subject, an oddity that happened only on the mainland. In short, they just couldn’t believe that people acted that way toward each other. Their worst fears were that something like that might happen to one of their friends, if they visited the mainland.
Unfortunately life in the islands has not always been a paradise of tolerance. In 1893, after years of turmoil instigated by small groups of mostly American businessmen, missionaries and sugar plantation owners, Hawaii’s monarch, Queen Liliuokalani was overthrown. This coup took place with the help of the U. S. military. The reason they gave was that it was necessary to protect American interests and the American citizens who lived in Hawaii. An act of aggression on this scale would cause an international outcry today, but in 1893 it went unchecked. The problems for Hawaii didn’t end there. There was racism on the part of the white overseers and bit by bit, the Hawaiians lost their ancestral lands.
A local man once told me that his family originally owned several miles of beach front property. But their land was taken away until they only owned enough land for one house and they struggled to pay their property tax. “This land was ours for hundreds of years before the US government took over. Why do we have to pay property taxes now? I’ll pay income tax, sales tax, any kind of tax they want, but I don’t think Hawaiians should pay property tax.” In a culture where the aina, the land is everything, he spoke without any anger or racism but only from a place of deep sadness.
When Hawaii was annexed by the United States in 1898, Princess Kaiulani, the heir to the Hawaiian throne, said that when she saw the Hawaiian flag being taken down, “it was bitterer than death.” Hawaii finally became a state in 1959 but culturally, it is and will always be its own proud Hawaii.
In light of their history, why then is Hawaii this present-day oasis of racial equality? I give credit to the Hawaiian people who believe in ‘doing what is Pono’, which translates to ‘doing what is right’. In short, they chose the higher road and I have the greatest respect for the people of Hawaii. If Maui is a paradise, it is first and foremost because of its people and I will always be eternally grateful for what Maui gave to my daughter, a much cherished childhood of racial acceptance, a childhood in paradise.
My friend Carlos grew up in Mexico City but now he lives on Maui. He works as a window washer. I see him at some of my jobs, brandishing his squeegee and an assortment of multicolored rags. We’re always glad to see each other as it gives us a chance to speak in Spanish which really means that we get to tell funny stories and jokes that just don’t sound the same in English.
But this time Carlos was more serious. “Why do you do this hard work all day long? You could teach Spanish. You learned Spanish in Vera Cruz where people tell risqué jokes and colorful stories all day long. You could teach Spanish a la Veracruzana. And if you teach all the bad words, you must charge much more money.”
I had to agree. “I used to teach school but I can make more money taking care of houses for people. That way I can keep my daughter in school.”
“Then you are an angel.”
“Either an angel or an idiot, I’m not sure which one,” I said.
Carlos shook his head. He was much too polite to use the word idiot, even in English.
“I’ve written four novels, too,” I said. “But none of them are published yet.”
Carlos continued washing the windows. “So how do you become successful? How do you become as famous as the writers we see in the bookstores?
I shrugged. “Some of those writers had to write five books before they got the first one published.”
“That’s it!” Carlos was polishing the window with a linen rag and he pointed the rag towards me as if he was going to polish me too. “You write the fifth book. You must go home and do it today!”
“I’m working on the fifth book.”
Carlos shook his head. “You must work harder. Go home and finish the fifth book. I feel certain that this is the answer.”
He stepped back to admire his windows which I had to admit shone like diamonds and then he turned to me, obviously pleased that he had managed to mend my shattered life as part of his days work.
“Go home and write,” he said.
“I guess it’s either that or teach dirty jokes in Spanish,” I said.
My gentle friend laughed as he packed up his rags to leave. “Some angel!” he joked.
As I watched him leave, I smiled for the first time all day. And just as he suggested, I went home to write the fifth book.
I can’t help noticing the incredible potential that children have. When I talk with my daughter and her friends, I find no limits to what they can achieve. Among them are talented actors, dancers and artists. They are compassionate, intelligent girls and they amaze me. Seeing potential in the young is not such an unusual experience but a strange thing happened the other day. I began to see potential for greatness in everyone. I’m not just talking about potential for financial success. I’m talking about the potential to inspire others, the potential to rise above difficulties in a miraculous way and to be the hero of our own life story.
The first person I saw this in was a homeless man living on the beach. His intelligence was still intact despite years of drug use and he spoke to me about his experiences and how he wanted to write a book. “Not many people can write about what I’ve seen,” he said soberly. I agreed and offered him all the encouragement I could.
The next person I met was an elderly woman in the grocery store who leaned on her shopping cart for support and smiled up at me from her permanently stooped posture. She seemed surprised at my offer for help, and laughingly explained, “I’m nearly ninety but I can still do everything myself.” Her enthusiasm for accomplishing small tasks had me smiling all day.
Last was the happy child from a neighborhood welfare family who wandered through my front door without knocking to ask for rice crackers. (She does this all the time and is always smiling despite her bad teeth.) She stayed to eat her crackers and talk to me about school before skipping off to find a friend to play with. As far as she is concerned, she has as much potential as anyone and I think she is right.
Seeing such potential in everyone I meet is like finding an unlimited treasure trove. And not only this, the potential seems close to the surface, unstoppable. We all have the potential to be great in our own way, to become the fully realized heroes of our own lives. Find your greatness. Embrace it. Your greatness is closer to the surface than you think.