Cross Culture at the Y: Hawaiian Heart
For a year now, I have taken this class next to Leilani, who stands just a little shallower in the pool than I. Today, as we were warming up, one topic led to another. We were talking about getting rid of “things” and she told me a niece had asked for her lighthouse collection, and how was she going to mail them all to her, some of them were almost two feet high?
“Easy-peasy,” I said, “You know those storage tubs people buy at Target? You can use bubble wrap and ship them in those containers. They give fragile items a lot of protection.”
Leilani laughed and said how funny it was she didn’t know that because her husband had been a postman after his retirement from the military.
“Nice!” I said. “Two pensions!”
“Not really,” she said, “The day he retired he came home and handed me divorce papers. He’d been planning this for a long time. ”
“Another girl?” I asked.
“No,” she laughed sadly, “He was greedy. He said ‘You’ll never see a penny of my money.”
“I hope you got a good lawyer” I said.
“I did.” She didn’t look happy. “I had raised the four children, so I got parts of both pensions AND alimony. I don’t need a lot. I was happy.”
I asked if he had been the kind of man who had planned to walk out on her and leave her with nothing, if he had also been mean and stingy during their marriage, and if a part of her found peace when he left. She said because of the four children she would never have left him, but that yes, her life was better when he was no longer there.
“Money doesn’t make a person happy,” she said. “Things don’t make a person happy. You know he went and got a beautiful luxury apartment, and died just a few years later. He had emphysema from smoking all the time. No one to help him. So I went there every day, took him a meal because he couldn’t do for himself. I sat with him at night. I was there when he took his final breath.”
“And you know what he would do while I was out of the room? He would take out his money and count it. It never brought him any happiness.”
My pool friend is one of the sweetest hearted women I have ever met. In all this time, she has never said a bad word about her husband, and she was there by his side as he died. There is no bitterness in her, no anger; she didn’t resent him, she let all those feelings go and did the kind thing for a dying man.
I call this cross-cultural, because she is Hawaiian, and I have seen this kind of serenity in my Hawaiian friends and acquaintances. They are willing to let go of grudges, they are willing to move on. They have generous hearts. I feel like I learned something from her today.
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