“Now,” he grinned, starting the engine, “we are ready for the life again! We are the lucky fellows, isn’t it? - Prabaker, Shantaram
Squinting in the bright sunshine outside the Honolulu airport, a warm, tingly sensation spreads through me. When my alarm went off at 4am this morning, I was already awake, a huge smile plastered across my face. After two long flights and over 12 hours of travel, I still can’t stop smiling.
I have not seen Michael Juberg in two years, one week, and two days (the last time we were together was the epic surprise birthday gathering in South Toe.) I have wanted to visit Jubes since the day he received his acceptance letter to attend the University of Hawai’i. Finally being here feels very surreal.
When he rolls up in a new Hyundai, reggae music blares from the speakers, while an adorable black puppy barks loudly in the back seat. Jumping out of the car shirtless, barefoot, and very, very tan, it is immediately clear that this dear friend of mine feels right at home here in Hawaii. Jubes scoops me into his arms, and we laugh and hoot and holler, shouting our joy to the heavens.
After a quick stop to pick up a six pack of Kona IPA, we head straight to the beach.
“We call this pau hana,” Jubes says, as our toes sink into the soft sand. “Pau means done, and pau hana refers to being done with work for the day—it’s the time for chillin.”
Over the next three hours, we lounge in the sunshine, drinking our beers and talking about the challenges and perks of grad school. A budding psychologist working towards a PhD, Jubes tells me about a recent class he took on extreme behaviors: why and how base jumpers, rock climbers, mountaineers, and free divers do what they do.
“I want to take that class!”
When we go swimming, I try to take in everything around me: revitalizing salt water. Abundant sunshine. Picturesque views. But most of all, I feel immensely grateful to have this quality time with one of my best friends.
On Friday, the first official day of Juberg’s spring break, we head to what is often cited as the most beautiful island in the Hawaiian archipelago: Kauai. As we drive back to the airport, Jubes tells me about a position he just landed at a clinic that serves a large native Hawaiian population.
We chat about the Hawaiian language ('Ölelo Hawaiʻi) and the importance of preserving its rich culture and tradition. “The native Hawaiian language is an oral tradition,” Jubes says. “So it’s really important to get the pronunciation right, especially with names.”
Learning a native language is a challenge for a white boy like Jubes, but I admire his dedicated determination. He tells me about engaging in soulful conversations with older native Hawaiians—how they tend to do things slower and more intentionally than a typical American from the mainland. They also exhibit a profound appreciation for the natural world.
I’m reminded of a passage from Susan Casey’s book, The Wave:
“Ancient Hawaiians believed that every last stone and leaf and flower and drop of water contained a spiritual life force, called mana, as surely as people and animals did. All things in nature were fully alive.”
On our fourth night in Kauai, Jubes and I sit next to our small camp fire at Polihale, a sweeping, beautiful beach adjacent to the infamous Na Pali coast. As we polish off (yet another) case of Konas, Juberg poses this question: “What do you want to do in the next ten years?”
Even though I haven’t asked myself that question before, the answer comes easily. I want to continue to travel the world, making my living from research expeditions and documentary-style work, but I’d like to create a home-base in the mountains. I tell Jubes about my plans to buy a house in South Toe. What else do I want to do in this next decade of life? Climb a bunch of big mountains. Travel to Nepal and India. Try some new activities: Kite boarding. Fly fishing. Ice climbing. Learn how to use a chain saw. Become a volunteer firefighter/EMT. Help my friends raise their kids. Start writing a book.
Juberg wants to build his career around integrative medicine and mindfulness-based therapy. He wants to have some land, and if he is still in Hawaii, he’ll grow pineapples and papayas and avocados. Regardless of where he settles down, he wants to have a family.
I have never tried to envision Juberg as a dad before, but it’s easy to see now. His kids will likely grow up hiking, camping, swimming, and surfing. If they turn out anything like their father, they will be easy-going and excited about everything they do.
The following Friday, back in Honolulu, we sit around another fire — this time in Juberg’s backyard. I lean back in my chair and try to release the pressure that has accumulated after a long day. Most of my time here has been vacation mode, but starting at 7am this morning, I spent all day meeting with colleagues at the University of Hawai’i. From the Center for Microbial Oceanographic Research and Education (C-MORE) to the Applied Research Laboratory to the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, I introduced myself to over 30 different researchers today. I’m excited to build my professional network out here but my brain feels fried after 12 hours of trying to make a good first impression.
Alex Jones, one of our dear friends from San Francisco, just arrived two days ago. Jubes poses the same question to him: what do the next 10 years look like for you?
“I definitely see myself being a dad,” Alex says. “In 10 years, I’d like to be settled down with two or three kids.”
I love Alex but the casual assumption that he’ll go from eligible bachelor to father of three within the next 10 years boggles my mind. Finding love and creating a lasting partnership and building a life together and making the decision to have children and actually getting pregnant — those things don’t just happen. They take an enormous amount of time and energy.
When it comes to creating family, my thoughts always go to Beth and Gia. Shortly after they started dating, I asked Gia about how and why her relationship with Beth was so solid, and I’ll never forget her response: “Honestly, a lot of it has to do with timing,” she said. “We met each other at the right time.”
That time was 10 years ago. Since then, they bought a car, adopted a dog, purchased their first home, got married, started a new business, and just had their first child two weeks ago.
I have no doubt that both Alex and Jubes will be great husbands and dads one day. I just hope they go through the process with as much thoughtful intention, patience, and love as the Brancifortes.
As is inevitable in a conversation like this one, Jubes asks me about having children. I remind him that I (still) have no desire to get pregnant or give birth.
“What if you meet someone who wants to have kids?” he asks. “What if the love of your life wants to have children with you?”
“I would never fall in love with someone who wants to have children.”
“Wow, Marley. That’s a bold statement.”
“Well, it’s the truth,” I say matter-of-factly. “I’m not saying I never want to be a mother. If I do get married, it’ll probably be later in life, in my 50s maybe. And who knows, my partner may have children from a previous marriage. But I think I could be a cool step-mom…”
Alex and Jubes nod in agreement. “And you get to be Aunt Marley,” Alex says with a wide smile.
“Oh yeah,” I say, thinking of Beth and Gia’s daughter. “I am very stoked to be Aunt Marley.”
My final night in Hawaii is a Saturday and we find ourselves at a party that feels like a music festival: a sweeping yard, a stage with professional lighting and sound equipment, a full open bar, and a buffet of delicious food. We were invited by friends of friends but the hostess, Candace, greets us warmly and invites us to hang out all night.
It’s a 40th birthday party. Everyone is drinking, but no one appears wasted. I split off from the guys and immediately start making new friends. I talk to a 39-year-old woman who says she would rather rescue animals than start a family. A man behind the bar compliments my geology tattoo and we start talking about science. It turns out he works for NOAA and knows most of the researchers I met yesterday.
Several hours later, I reconnect with Jubes and Alex. “This party gives me hope for the future,” I say. “It’s good to know people in their 40s and 50s still get down like this… if I have a mid-life crisis, I’m just going to move to Hawaii.”
Juberg wraps his arms around me and Alex, throws his head back and shouts, “we’ve got the trade winds of youth out here!”
Two days, twelve hours, and roughly 5,000 miles later, I wake up from a jet lag induced nap. Groggy and bleary-eyed, I reach for my laptop and type “trade winds” into Google. I scroll through convergence zone charts and maps of ocean currents, and eventually land on navigation during the Age of Discovery.
The volta do mar was a sailing technique discovered in successfully returning from the Atlantic islands, where the pilot first had to sail far to the west in order to catch usable following winds, and return to Europe. This was a counter-intuitive sailing direction, as it required the pilot to steer in a direction that was perpendicular to the ports of Portugal.
When it comes to mapping out our futures, I wonder when and how we will confront counter-intuitive directions. Will we have to make some unconventional moves to get where we want to be? And where will we actually be in 10 years? Will Jubes be picking homegrown pineapples with the kids? Will I be looking up from my manuscript to gaze at the Black Mountains?
Knowing me and Jubes, when we are 41 and 42, the two of us will be sitting on a beach, drinking beer, and talking about the next 10 years.