Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Shivering in the dark at the Caltrain platform: a perspective

The wind felt quite cold as we waited on the Caltrain platform. Due to a fatality near the Santa Clara station, trains would be delayed 60 or 90 minutes.

It turned out to be more like two hours, but as I started feeling uncomfortable, I thought, here I am in a pair of jeans, a scarf, a hoodie and a coat. Even if it lasts another hour, tonight I'll have a hot meal and and sleep in my own bed next to my wife in our warm house.

I thought of the thousands of Syrian refugees, fleeing violence at home, and how much harder it will be for them after those bullies from Da'esh launched the Paris attacks. I mean—imagine it:

You're just trying to feed your family, minding your own business, and one day you start to hear rumors. You're afraid, but what can you do? Then one night you hear doors slamming, screams, gunshots; you gather your family and run like hell. The next day you make your way back to town and find your neighbors and extended family killed. You find another survivor, who tells you that armed men went door to door, killing everyone who didn't have the right kind of family name, or wasn't the right kind of Muslim.

And now a bunch of European countries are telling you to stay out, when all you're trying to do is get away from people who have killed off most of your village.

I think about our United States, how many people came from Europe, fleeing religious persecution of all things, in the 17th century. And in the centuries since, how many more came from all over the world to make new lives for themselves, fleeing poverty and persecution. Some came in search of a better life, or maybe just in search of adventure.

And I am embarrassed today to be a citizen of the same country where so many GOP governors have said they'll take no more Syrian refugees. Yes, some "refugees" are actually terrorists, and some real refugees will become terrorists. But the overwhelming majority—I mean let's be serious—are just trying to stay alive.

And I remember with some bitterness that people like Lee Harvey Oswald, Timothy McVeigh, the Columbine shooters whose names I've forgotten, Adam Lanza, and lots of other mass killers were never refugees.

What is the matter with us?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Returning to California: Flight Diary (sorta)

A few happy momenets.

I was kicking myself for not just filling the rental car's tank in Manoa. Not finding a filling station on Lagoon Drive, I used the "Maps" app on my phone to find the nearest station. When I got there, I found out: for military personnel only. By the time I found the Chevron at Moanalua Shopping Center, I should have already been at the airport. So much for trying to be a good citizen by filling up near the airport!

But when I got to the airport, I had no trouble checking my bag because the flight was delayed: about 35 minutes. TSA PreChk made for a less-annoying experience at the checkpoint. My section was the last to be called. On the jetway, a gate agent called out, "Any bags to go, pre-tagged?"

Behind me, the young Japanese father said, "えっ? なんって?" (basically "Huh? What'd she...")

Digging into my latent reservoir, I came up with "お預かり..." --the light of understanding dawned in him--"荷物."

He pulled his bag off the stroller and waved an arm. "Excuse me!"

A few people in front of us chimed in, and we eventually got the agent's attention. "We have a stroller here," I said.

The stroller disappeared, and the young dad gave me his thanks.

A few minutes later, on the plane, he got his wish: a chance to do something to help me. We were almost the last ones on the plane, and I was trying to get my roll-on bag into an overhead bin. The young dad moved some stuff for me and I was able to hoist my bag up and into place. "どうも, お疲れ様" I returned.

I was in 9D, with a Chinese couple seated next to me in 9E-F; 9A was occupied but 9B-C were vacant. I slid into 9C, giving the couple room to spread out, and did a little spreading out myself.

A couple hours later, the beverage cart parked at our row for the third time. The flight attendant was tending to row 11. The lady in 9A was looking up hopefully, so I asked her if she needed anything. "Water," she said, so I watched for an opportunity.

As the flight attendant returned to her cart, I leaned toward her. "When you get a chance," I began.

She stopped and I continued, "...she would like..." and I let 9A speak for herself.

Truly feeling blessed today.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

10-20-30 interval training?

From "A Way to Get Fit and Also Have Fun By Gretchen Reynolds July 29, 2015" in the NY Times blogs:
“We wanted to create a workout that could be employed by everyone, from the nonexperienced person to the elite athlete,” Dr. Bangsbo said.

After some trial and error, they came up with a candidate routine and named it 10-20-30 training.

It has become my favorite interval program.

The short version is, this is a routine you're more likely to stick with, probably because it's less grueling; it's as beneficial or more so than tougher regimes. Here's a summary of the steps involved:
  1. warm up
  2. 30 seconds of relaxed movement
  3. 20 seconds of moderate exercise
  4. 10 seconds of maximum effort
  5. repeat steps 2-4 for a total of five cycles (elapsed time 5 minutes)
  6. rest 2 minutes
  7. repeat step 5 (i.e., another 5 minutes)
  8. cool down
As you can see, it's warm-up, 12 minutes, cool-down. The article has a link to a journal article where the aforementioned Dr. Bangsbo is an author: The 10-20-30 training concept improves performance and health profile in moderately trained runners.
J Appl Physiol (1985). 2012 Jul;113(1):16-24. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00334.2012. Epub 2012 May 3.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Dad was admitted to hospital on Monday August 31, and my sister Donna flew to Honolulu Wednesday to be with him. He was confused but improving, and everyone was talking about his recovery/rehab. Still, as the week wore on, I felt a strong desire to be with him. As I wrote earlier, I responded immediately to the blood center's reminder email, and that gave me a sense of connection with Dad. Yet I also wanted to see him in person.

It was September 3rd and I considered the possibilities. We had a plan to meet my daughter and son-in-law and grandson and niece in Felton Monday the 7th (Labor Day), so I wanted to leave after that. The lovely Carol had reservations to fly to Asia on the 17th, so I wanted to return before that. I'd briefly considered flying to Honolulu Monday morning and canceling our plans with the young folks, but since everyone in Honolulu was optimistic, I left those plans intact and planned to fly out Friday 9/11 (an auspicious date).

We enjoyed our time with the young folks on Monday, but our house phone rang that night, close to midnight. Nothing good happens at that hour, and this was when I heard Dad was in a crisis. An hour later he stopped breathing.

I was distressed about this, and wanted to see my mom and sisters immediately. I briefly considered taking the first flight I could get, which would have been about 6 hours later. Instead I opted for a flight out Wednesday morning.

Tuesday morning I went to the office and set up an email auto-reply. I also preemptively told my colleagues that I was leaving due to a death in the family. Several friends (and colleagues) stopped by to convey their condolences. Two gave me the same excellent advice: DO NOT indulge the "what if?"s.

Should I rent a car? I wasn't sure so I texted my sisters.

As I packed, I thought, well, if I had left Monday morning I might have seen him alive one more time. I thought, if I had "facetime"d him Monday afternoon, as my cousin-by-marriage had, I would have talked to him alive one more time. Then I remembered my friends' excellent advice and renounced those thoughts. No one is ever told what would have happened…

Thursday afternoon we had an appointment at the mortuary to look at Dad's body before cremation. I wasn't sure I liked the cremation idea, but when I saw his body (it had been in the 'fridge and condensation was forming at several places) I changed my mind. The past few weeks he had lost quite a bit of weight. I wanted to remember him as he was during my previous visits.

We all wept. We agreed that things could have been much worse: it might have been months in a hospital bed in the house, a life he would not have liked. We knew all this, but still it was hard to accept that he was really gone. A world without my father in it is an idea that repels the mind.

Donna said it was good for us to see him here; without it we might imagine he was just at the hospital or somewhere else. I agreed. It's a necessary shock to force the mind to accept an idea that repels it.

Mom asked if someone could pray, and I said, "Not me; I can't even see." My sister Inga spoke to God for us.

We had a memorial service Saturday: the urn holding his ashes sat on a table in front, with a 20"x30" pic of him nearby. Several people shared their memories of him. I heard things I hadn't known before—things that made me desire even more to be like him.

Monday morning we buried his ashes. In a small ceremony at the cemetery we watched the urn go into the underground concrete "vault" and we filed by, dropping flowers into the hole in the earth. Workers from the cemetery closed the vault and shoveled soil to fill the hole, then replaced the sod.

It was important, for me at least, to witness this. As our pastor says sometimes, our bodies know things different from what our heads know. By dropping a flower into the vault (into the hole at least) and mentally saying good-bye to Dad, my body was forced to acknowledge that Dad is really no longer with us on this earth. Without this ritual, my mind would still have known that he's gone, but my body would not be sure.

Sometimes we go to funerals to comfort the bereaved, and I appreciate everyone who came to Dad's memorial to comfort us. But at least from my perspective, the important thing I got was that I acknowledged with both my mind and my body that my dad is no longer with us.

That way, the mind and the body and the reality in the world can all agree—this promotes mental and spiritual health. And I need all of that I can get.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

I try my best to be just like I am…

I heard Bob Dylan's Maggie's Farm on NPR recently, and these lines especially struck me:
Well, I try my best
To be just like I am
But everybody wants you
To be just like them
A worthy endeavor, that. But it's difficult. As Thomas Merton wrote:
We cannot be ourselves unless we know ourselves. But self-knowledge is impossible when thoughtless and automatic activity keeps our souls in confusion. In order to know ourselves … we have to cut down our activity to the point where we can think calmly and reasonably about our actions.
Merton, No Man Is an Island (1955) 7.8 (p. 126)
Thoughtless and automatic activity: that'll keep us from knowing who we are, what we actually admire, what we want to become.

Tolstoy's Ivan Ilych was bedridden as he neared death; I think this enforced reduction in activity was part of how he discovered the vanity in his life:

It occurred to him that what had appeared perfectly impossible before, namely that he had not spent his life as he should have done, might after all be true. It occurred to him that his scarcely perceptible attempts to struggle against what was considered good by the most highly placed people, those scarcely noticeable impulses which he had immediately suppressed, might have been the real thing, and all the rest false.
The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy, XI (p. 55)
trans. Louise and Aylmar Maude
(downloaded September 2015)
Ivan Ilych's life was certainly not as busy and distracted as the life of a middle-class Millennial, but he kept busy enough with his work and social engagements. It was only when those distractions were curtailed, and when he contemplated his suffering, that he realized that the only real thing in his life may have been the feeble impulses to resist the values of high-status people—impulses which he'd immediately suppressed anyway.

If I do not know who I am, it is because I think I am the sort of person everyone around me wants to be. Perhaps I have never asked myself whether I really wanted to become what everybody else seems to want to become. Perhaps if I only realized that I do not admire what everyone seems to admire, I would really begin to live after all.
Merton, op. cit. 77.8 (pp. 125f)
Ivan Ilych didn't know who he was, really; he didn't know what he actually admired. His folly was also Merton's at times, and I dare say ours as well.

Does it matter, really, if we know ourselves? In the introduction to No Man Is an Island, Merton writes that it's quite important—that it's part of salvation, part of what everyone seeks:

What every man looks for in life is his own salvation and the salvation of the men he lives with. By salvation I mean first of all the full discovery of who he himself really is. Then I mean something of the fulfillment of his own God-given powers, in the love of others and of God.
Merton, op. cit. p. xv
He has more to say about salvation, but he lists self-discovery first. I've been thinking lately about "salvation" so I found Merton's comments particularly interesting.

When he says "salvation," what is he talking about? What are we being saved from? We need to be saved from a life Merton describes here:

Why do we have to spend our lives striving to be something that we would never want to be, if we only knew what we wanted? Why do we waste our time doing things which, if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we were made for?
op. cit. 7.8 (p. 126)
There is an even more basic thing we need: we need to know that we are loved by God. We need to know that we're not perfect, and we need to know that it's okay, because nobody is. We need to know that life doesn't consist in possessions or status or even physical health.

And so we must disconnect from thoughtless and automatic activity once in a while. We need to take time for what's important, to tend to our souls. To have unscheduled time. As Buechner wrote in Secrets in the Dark, there are times when it is quiet and you don't really have to do anything, when

[t]he time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming. (59)
Rather than doing the usual thing, once in a while we need to look back, to consider the clues about who we are and who we are becoming.

I'm doing that now, particularly as I try to adjust to the idea of a world where my earthly father no longer lives.

Another memory of Dad

I took a right turn and heard a thumping from the trunk. It was a big roll of paper, "butcher paper" I think, that we used for covering tables for yesterday's lunch reception. The sound reminded me of something Dad told me.

"Did Dad ever tell you that story about the bottle in the trunk?" Neither Mom nor my sister Donna had heard it.

I guess he was still single when this happened, so probably more than 60 years ago. He and a friend were driving, and there was a bottle or something in the trunk. They turned a corner and heard this Bah-dum-bah-dum-bah-dum from the trunk. They found this amusing. "Hey, that's pretty good!" They checked for traffic and swerved left.

Bah-dum-bah-dum-bah-dum. Swerved right. Bah-dum-bah-dum-bah-dum

Pretty soon another sound was heard: a siren, accompanied by flashing lights in the rear-view mirror. They pulled over.

"Lemme smell your breath!" The cop was not pleased.

"The steering seemed a little loose," my dad said.

After checking his license and registration, the cop let them go. "Next time test your steering in a parking lot," he growled.

Is that the kind of thing to tell your son, but not your wife or daughter?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Dad: some notes

Dad's memorial service was today. They asked me to do the bio—but then… well:
I was asked to do the biography, but since that's printed in your bulletins, I'll elaborate [on it], and start the remembrances early.

Dad was born August 6, 1923 in Fairview, Oregon. He never knew his mother; she died before his 2nd birthday. As a single father overwhelmed with a farm to run, Grandpa Kyung Soo sent little Arthur away to the "Waverly Baby Home." There, Art unfortunately learned something of racism and the dark side of human nature.

One day, a strange man came to retrieve Art from the institution. Art was so afraid of this stranger that on the train ride home, he couldn't bring himself to ask for the bathroom. You can imagine what happened next. Grandpa asked Art why he didn't say anything; when he heard about Art's fear, he spoke kindly to him.

Art moved to Honolulu in 1941 to live with sister Louvie and her husband Kenneth, now both deceased. He wrote home that he got seasick on the boat ride, and that Kenneth seemed to be "a good egg." Then December 7th came.

Dad worked for the Army as an electronics instructor, first as a draftee and later as a civilian. He had an interesting and varied career before the FAA. He was the engineer at the UH radio station near Date and Kapiolani. He sold insurance, which is how he met our mom. They would have celebrated their 60th anniversary next month.

Dad had quite the sense of humor. One day, back when Mom was, ah, "great with child" (me I think), she had lunch with Dad downtown. They were heading their separate ways -- she was on an escalator -- and he called out, "Don't tell your husband."

The FAA would send Dad to school on the mainland, sometimes for months. Mom would record audio letters to him, and include voices of us kids on them. These were small reels of 1/4" magnetic tape.

On one of these stays on the mainland, Dad had an idea. "Hey fellas," he told his classmates, "Let's move our chairs forward 2 inches." They did this every day for a week or two. One morning, the instructor turned around to walk to the blackboard and bumped into it instead. He told me this story just a couple of months ago, in July.

Dad didn't preach a lot, but he impressed upon me the idea that there are other perspectives than mine. "That's a funny-looking caterpillar," I remarked once. I might have been four or five. "You probably look pretty funny to him too, Son," he replied. Indeed.

Way back, when all of us kids were still living at home, Dad habitually went to the blood bank. He'd call out, "going to give blood" before driving off. I don't know how many gallons he gave. I learned from him that giving blood is something that a man does. Part of why I give blood today is that I wanted to be like him. Still do, in fact.

Dad lived a generous and loving life. My wife often recalls meeting him before our wedding. At first sight, Dad said to her, "Here's the girl that's making my son so happy!"

Back when he was only in his 80s, he taught computer skills at HCC. It wasn't for the money. He was always fixing something for somebody.

He also volunteered a lot at this church. In fact he was about 10 feet above the concrete floor of the Parish Hall here, when the ladder slid out from under him; that's how he broke his back.

After that, I heard him praying more. In one of those prayers he was thankful for that experience because it brought him closer to God. When we say Dad never stopped learning, we don't just mean technology.

Oh, and he didn't stop volunteering at the church after that incident either. I learned that a man doesn't stop giving and helping just because of some inconvenience.

Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the summer of 2014, and that was when I finally realized that he might die some day. He had surgeries, and courses of various medicines. He's had a few health crises, and we all knew the end was coming soon. When I last visited, he was very interested in what happens after this life.

The past couple of weeks have been quite frightening, but he'd been improving until Monday; none of us expected we'd be gathered here quite so soon.

But how can we complain? We've all had our lives touched by this wonderful man; I had the distinct pleasure of having him for my dad, of learning from his example and seeing him enjoy his long life.

I can hardly believe he's gone, and sometimes I can barely hold myself together. But then I remember that one of his fondest wishes was that we survive him. So even in our grief, we can rejoice with him that his wish was granted.

That's basically what I said. I wish you could have known him.

Update: And now you can, a little

through some short videos made by his super-talented granddaughter Jana (my niece):
  • Arthur W. Park Memorial Video
    Through this video, I hoped to allow Grandpa to "speak" at his own Memorial Service. Although tears were shed, there was so much laughter, just the way Grandpa would want it. Hope you all enjoy this! (w/clips from the many commercials/films he's starred in!)
  • "Arthur" (Championships Winner: Showdown in Chinatown 2015)
    Published on Nov 9, 2014
    We had less than 3 weeks to make this film, starring 91-year old korean-American senior, Arthur Park, and shot in Honolulu, Hawaii.