You hear it all the time.
You gotta live life to the fullest!
Live like there’s no tomorrow!
Life is short!
Live your best life!
Be in the moment!
But what does this all really mean?
I used to think living your best life meant checking items off the proverbial bucket list, finishing personal projects, learning new things, eating the entire cake. Because why not! We only live once!
But, especially after this weekend, my perspective on this way of thinking suddenly seems flawed.
Sunday was the memorial service of Gilbert “Soyu” Kawamoto, a 74-year-old surfer whom I met 15 years ago in the water. He surfed every morning, rarely missing a session. Even in the blustering winds at Diamond Head, even in small, sometimes non-existent surf. It didn’t matter. He paddled out — and enjoyed himself. I can’t recall a morning when he complained about the conditions, no matter how awful. It was always fun, good to be out, he would say.
He died suddenly last month. Got sick, went to the hospital, died. Just like that. We didn’t have time to say goodbye.
When I told my husband about Soyu’s passing, he said something that stuck with me for a few days: “He lived a really good life. That’s the way to go, surfing every day.”
Soyu never wasted a moment. That’s how we should live our lives, I thought. To the fullest.
But here’s the thing: I thought that living life to the fullest meant surfing every morning — or whatever it is that you love. Could be hiking or traveling or getting massages. Whatever you love to do, whatever you’re passionate about, do it. Do it all the time. Whenever you can.
But I don’t think that’s actually what it means. Or, maybe, should mean.
All these things — surfing, traveling — are mostly selfish endeavors. These are things that only matter to you, that only benefit you.
And most of us have to work or can’t afford to travel to far-off places. Many of us have kids or families we can’t up and ditch. A lot of us just don’t have the time or money — or both.
So does that mean we can never live our lives to the fullest? We can’t YOLO?
On Sunday, the family held a memorial service for Soyu at the Elks Club in Waikīkī. It was a glorious send-off, with his friends playing Hawaiian music, food catered by Rainbow Drive-In, tons of photos of Soyu surfing and laughing.
It didn’t feel like a funeral at all. It was a party, with beer and poke and live music. It was exactly the kind of party Soyu would have loved. I could imagine him sitting in the back with his friends, a cold Big Swell IPA in his hand, cracking jokes and kicking back like he always did.
But talking with his family, namely his daughter, Malie, I realized something else: Soyu spent a lot of time with his family, coaching baseball, teaching his kids how to surf, playing Nintendo at home. Everyone who knew him would say that Soyu would help anyone out, he was generous and willing to pitch in, he showed up, he always did the right thing.
That’s when it hit me: Living your life to the fullest shouldn’t be selfish. In fact, it shouldn’t be about you at all. Living a full life means carving out time to spend with the important people in your life, even when you’re busy. It means supporting causes and charities that mean something to you. It means stopping to give someone a hug for no reason. It means telling your mom or brother or husband or kid or dog that you love them. It means not waiting, not hesitating, not saying, “Ah, I’ll do it later.” Because, as Malie knows, later may never come.
I can’t travel the way I used to. I can’t surf every morning anymore. But that doesn’t mean my life is any less valuable or important. And it doesn’t mean I can’t find pleasure in the simpler things, like watching my son laugh so hard he falls over or snuggling with my husband in bed with three dogs and watching “The Avengers.” These are the moments that I’ll remember.
But I might start planning more massages, too.