I'm enjoying my last few months in Kona working at the restaurant. It is situated just a few feet from the water; the view is stupendous. The people are friendly and fun - this includes the staff and the customers. So it's really not a bad place to be in any regard. I often find myself gazing out over the ocean and the other quaint buildings in this little town - well, you can't help it, it literally fills your view wherever you are down there.
One day this week when the surf was up, a customer came up the stairs seeking a table for lunch. He was friendly and talkative, as so many people are here. As I walked him to his table, he was also looking out over the roiling ocean, and spoke to me with words of awe, in that soft local Hawaiian pidgin lilt. Oh man look at that surf today. If I were 50 years younger I would be out in that, not up here just looking at it. I placed his menu on the table and when he didn't sit down right away I looked up and saw what I can only describe as a kind of misty nostalgia in his eyes as he took in the view. Isn't it beautiful? I agreed with a smile.
A little while later I was standing at the host stand, still admiring the waves myself, when this man came up and stood next to me to share the view, having finished his meal. He told me he had lived here all his life, and what a beautiful life it has been in this town, on this island. He shared memories of life here decades ago, before the highway was built, before the new airport and the stoplights; the area in town where the restaurant is, now populated by quite a few other establishments and a big parking lot, was wide open, he said. He had seen a lot of changes, but said it is still special and wouldn't want to be anywhere else. He talked about how wonderful it was to be young here, in Kona's earlier days. I again got the impression of sadness for time gone by. It seemed like he wished himself back to his youth. I could see, behind his eyes which were so full of emotion, his mind working through his own memories. I thought how wonderful he had loved his life so much, and how deeply he appreciated the place of his birth. Not everyone on this planet experiences that. But I could relate, both to the love of this place, and the feeling of loss at time gone by.
He asked me how long I had lived here. 16 years, I said. Oh that's a long time, you've seen changes here too, eh? Yes, I said. He asked me how I came to be here. My husband wanted to move here, so we did that together, I said. He's a smart man, he said. Well, he's passed now, I said, but we were very happy here. The man looked at me, again with that kind of sad look in his eyes I had witnessed earlier. Oh I'm so sorry, he said. How many years did he get to live here? About 12, I said, and he nodded with a small sense of relief. Oh that's good, he said. He had time to enjoy it too. Yes, I said. He definitely did enjoy it. But I thought to myself: there was never enough time.
In my spare moments, of which there are few these busy days, I've been reading a series of novels on my Kindle app about time travelers. I happen to love time travel stories, and these have been fun and absorbing, as my brain attempts to follow the characters through their temporal adventures. Long jumps back to the 70s and 80s, longer ones to ancient Egypt and Rome, forward to a distant future of synthetic humans and flying cars, and small jumps of a few seconds or minutes, gauged to avoid bad guys or their other selves in moments where they already were. It's a wonderful escape, but I think it's something else too. I think it's an obsession about time itself.
I cannot catch time. I cannot grasp it or take it with me. It's like trying to hold a handful of water and helplessly watching it seep through my fingers. Mike used to say we can't walk on the same water twice. It wasn't his saying but he repeated it often in an attempt to explain how we could never go back; we could never exactly recreate a moment.
I keep trying to hold on to moments; to be in my now, to savor these last days in this chapter, because sadly I don't have a fictional chronometer device and therefore cannot blink myself into a different year. But they are as fleeting as any other moment in any other place for any other person. They don't stay. Only the memories stay. In my mind, I can travel back to previous moment. I can remember standing and looking at the waves with Mike. I can remember driving with him along the very road I look out over each work day. But I can't literally transport myself back there, to that day, that moment, with him, though my heart desperately wishes it could.
In a sense, we are all time travelers. We are traveling through time together, making memories, getting older. Our other, younger selves are still back there, in that moment, in that place, with those people, alive together, looking at those waves. Our future selves are out there too, somewhere, doing something, with other people, looking at other things. But in our now, which is such a powerfully enigmatic term, we only exist in a moment, a flash, and then another, and another, until we look back, and find the moment before is only, and only ever will be, a memory. I know that man at the restaurant that day knew that. I knew Mike knew it, as I remember him trying to savor every second. Now, I know it too.