Success proves to be
a fluid concept
JANUARY'S heavy rains, coupled with a plugged storm drain brought all the water from Aina Haina onto our street. We spent one soggy Saturday in rain slickers and shorts, wading through rising water and watching helplessly as muddy runoff seeped into our yard, garage and over our front step until our house was an island.
When the water receded the next day, we started cleaning up. Added to the urgency of salvaging what we could was our Wednesday departure for a mainland leadership conference. One session I'd looked forward to was a roundtable discussion on "How Do You Define Success?" In such a select group of overachievers, I had hoped, if not to add something profound and erudite, at least not sound stupid.
It was hard to think deep thoughts when the records of our lives threatened to glue themselves into paper bricks covered with mold. We spread what we could on a shower curtain on the floor and on every kitchen surface.
"Not exactly the way you want to revisit your lives," said a friend who had volunteered to house sit. True, but that's what we did. For three days, the oven ran at low temp as we dried out page after page on cookie sheets.
How many years are you required to maintain tax records? The oldest we pitched, noting the dollar amount we claimed that year and the comparative simplicity of filing. Annual increases weren't entirely due to inflation; we've worked our way up the tax brackets. Deeds on houses we owned reminded us of years of moving around.
History had a musty smell as it baked. The employment trail took us to Puerto Rico in the 1970s. The hotel where my husband worked hosted the world economic summit. We salvaged pictures of him shaking hands with President Gerald Ford, a black-and-white of the Prime Minister of England, and other mementos. Drying out news clips of people we've lost contact with or who have since died was bittersweet.
And books. Hamilton Library it wasn't, but it was ours. We tossed out children's books, each a token of hours spent reading to a pre-schooler or two, snuggled up on each side.
The pre-schoolers grew up, moved out, left jetsam in their wake. Cub Scout pinewood derby ribbons, birthday photos, Mother's and Father's Day cards on colored construction paper tied with yarn.Yes, kids, you do have a permanent record, even though it's now a bit blurred and crinkled.
Teen years presented more of a challenge. There were times we considered high school graduation a real achievement. Now I want to attach notes to those fading high school report cards to say, "This child is now fully living up to his/her potential."
Wednesday, the threat of flooding still raw in the continuing rain, we crossed our fingers and packed suitcases. Success, I concluded, was a moving target. Each age brings its challenges; each achievement adds another chapter in the journey that is life.
Sally Sorenson is a Honolulu writer who considers seeing her byline as a success.
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