It is around half past noon when Kekoa steps into the church’s coffee shop and bookstore, longboard in hand. The service has just ended, and people lounge among the tables and couches in the shop, sharing sips and smiles over scripture and recent life happenings. I wave Kekoa down, and he joins me at a raised table by a wall of long, tinted windows. We speak of emotion and identity among other subjects that are essentially as transparent as the wall beside us. To a person attempting to peer inside, or one seeking to understand a particular subject, all that is visible is a reflection of one’s own self; yet from within this space of thought-sharing, much more about the outer world may be revealed. The only object separating the two modes of perception is the window of conversation.
How are you today?
Actually having to answer this question is harder than the generic “good” [or] “alright,” which all point beyond themselves anyway. If someone says, “Good,” it’s very generic, but then “alright” [implies] there’s something behind there.
I’m pretty tired. I had a long weekend. I had a speech tournament all weekend. Do you ever get those times where you just want to be alone? That’s how I am today. I want to be not necessarily alone, but invisible. Like around other people, but just a part of the crowd. No one looks at you, but you’re there. That’s how I am today.
Can you name a song that speaks to you?
“Tree To Grow” by The Lone Bellow. The first night I heard it, it was like 11 PM, and I stayed up until 2 AM, just smashing the repeat button, listening to it so many times over because it shook the insides of my body so much. It’s an amazing song. Go home and listen to it.
[It speaks to me] because the passion of the delivery really sends home the message of the song; and the song is about love, and the depiction of love is incredibly beautiful. It spoke to the kind of person that I want to be, insofar as someone that loves. At least to the chorus… I don’t fully understand some of the verses.
Is there something you have always wanted to do?
(Pauses.) That I haven’t done yet? How long is always? (Laughs.) I guess no one thing eclipses the others. There [are] small, pithy hobbies that are things that I want to do, like climbing. I want to learn how to tie every knot. I want to finish learning the song on the piano that I’m currently learning. But then there are big life goals. I want to raise a son, dude. That’d be insane. I want to find a companion for the rest of my life, like a wife. Things like that. But it’s tough to find one that eclipses all of the others, one that would truly answer that question, putting out all of the other ones.
Do you have any regrets?
Yeah, a lot. [My friend and I] were just talking about this the other day. There’s something to be said about “#NoRegrets” or “#NoLookingBack,” stuff like that, but when I look at my life, it’s like… There was a distinction between the two. The distinction was [that] there are decisions that I have made that I didn’t like, it was the wrong decision, but good things came out of it anyway, or some kind of growth came out of it, or I became a kind of man afterwards that [is] better than I was before. But that doesn’t make the decision right; you can still regret the decision even though something good might have happened from it.
The most recent example was yesterday. In the final round of this one speech to entertain, I did so terrible. I guess I can regret not prepping that, because there was very little preparation for that speech, it was super last minute, but I learned a lot about how to follow through with something even when you’re not totally prepared. There are beneficial things that happen with a failure like that, so you can regret the decision, but still be okay with the result. I think that’s what a lot of people mean when they say, “No regrets.”
What is your highest aspiration?
To become a man whose identity is defined by easily and naturally behaving in the way that Christ did. Discipleship, at a certain point, won’t be something that you do; it’s someone that you are. And so, if somebody tries to imagine, “Oh, I could never do this part of Christ’s identity or become this kind of person” because they can’t see themselves doing it now, [they] have to sort of work there. When it’s been achieved, it won’t feel like you’re doing it because it’s someone that you are.
Who would you thank first in an acceptance speech?
Well, shoot. Probably the first thing that [would come] out would be family, depending on what I’m giving the speech for. And also depending would be thanking God in some fashion, but I might be too self-conscious about that. Hopefully, I would because that’s the kind of person that I want to be, to acknowledge God’s success through me in my life in any setting. But honestly, I don’t know if I would, which I guess is kind of a pithy thing.
It’d probably be family, and then if it’s climbing, I’d thank Dustin; if it’s piano, I’d thank my cousin Isaac. Depending on the subject, there [are] lots of different people that have played keystone roles in any one endeavor in my life that I’d probably thank in a specific fashion.
Do you have a motto?
I guess you could call it kind of a motto. In Hawaii, on the island of Oahu, Eddie Aikau was a legendary surfer and lifeguard, and he and his brother were lifeguards on the North Shore, which gets the biggest swells on Oahu, and it’s notoriously dangerous. He became sort of a local legend around the island for paddling out into the most harrowing conditions and saving surfers when nobody else would go. When his life was at risk, or conditions were so bad, it was more likely that he would die along with the surfer than he would save them, he’d do it anyway. He was there for a long time, and he never lost a surfer. There became this mantra that arose around his name, “Eddie would go.” Actually, my dad knew Eddie because this wasn’t super long ago. This was our parents’ generation [when] this was happening.
A group wanted to see if they could navigate using the stars to get from Hawaii to Samoa because Hawaiians are descendents of Samoans, [and] that’s how they think they got there. So they attempted this feat, and the ship capsized not far outside of Hawaii, and Eddie was the only survivor that washed up on the shores of Oahu. He immediately grabbed his surfboard, and he paddled out into the horizon, searching for the other survivors, and no one ever saw him again. But every other member of the crew was found.
There’s an annual festival in Oahu in his honor; it’s a surfing thing on the North Shore. But that became a phrase that me and my friend, who really digs that story, sort of rose up around. “Eddie would go.” In any instance in which we wouldn’t [have gone] or were hesitant, it was like, “Well, Eddie would go.” My friend actually made me business cards. On the back, it says, “Kekoa would go.” Kekoa is my middle name. These business cards are actually one of the coolest gifts I’ve ever been given. It just says, “Friend” and then my contact information.
What would you title your memoir?
Probably Various Musings because that’s what I already titled a book that I write all my thoughts in, although each book kind of has a subtitle that might be specific. I would carry a moleskin [notebook] in my pocket, and on the cover I wrote, “Various Musings” because it would just be random thoughts. And then it kind of turned into something else… Your mind is organized in a certain fashion, memories here, emotions there, I guess, in the abstract sort of way, and that’s kind of what the book was for me; I’d keep thoughts about these things here, ideas here, things to think about later, reminders[, etc.] So then it would have subtitles, but I’d always call it “Various Musings” if somebody referred to it by name.
Which of your experiences have been the most life-changing?
Experiences are so manifold, and also, your perspective of experiences changes over time. Experiences that are fresher may have a bigger, “Oh, this is changing cuz it’s changing right now!” than things in the past, so it’s really a tough decision. And a lot of times, there are not singularities of experiences that will cause a change, but more so, strings of singularities, epochs rather than an experience, that are the most life changing. Or at least, that’s how it’s been in my experience.
I’ll just give you experiences that have been life-changing. So, the day that I met my best friend, Dustin Jang, I was sleeping in my friend’s bed at a going away party. There were four of us in the bed; we were watching It’s a Wonderful Life. I was wearing a sweatshirt, and I was under the covers, and I woke up cuz it was like two hundred degrees, and I was like, “Why is it so hot!” There was an Asian dude in sight, and I was like, “Who is this guy?” People were hugging him and talking to him like he’d been away for a while, [so] I was like, “Oh, I guess my friends know him.” This was in a new group of friends, and I don’t remember how we started. That was the first time I ever saw him, and it’s like we’ve known each other out of the womb. I’ve only known him for a year and a half, but that was a big, life-changing thing, this companion that I didn’t have before.
Reading the whole Bible, cover to cover, was a big, life-changing thing. It didn’t happen on a day, but it was all of the process, and that played a big part in my [actually] becoming a disciple of Christ. You know church kids who grow up in the church, but there is a certain point where it becomes you. It’s no longer just something my parents told me when I was young.
The day that my most recent girlfriend said, “Yes” when I asked her out and then the day that she broke up with me were two very large, life-changing events.
If you could change one thing about the world, what would you choose?
If I could change one thing, that would be every human’s heart [so] that every human would be enraptured by this palpable, visceral love of Christ.
When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
Human. Probably two eyes, if I was looking at the eyes. If I look into a mirror, I see the mirror, the glass. That’s not what you’re asking, [but] that was immediately where my mind went, just the literal things that my eyes are seeing and the brain perceiving.
Sometimes I don’t recognize myself. I shaved recently after having a big beard, and I was like, “Who is this dude?” Yesterday, I wore a tie instead of a bowtie. It was a nice tie, my friend gave it to me; it was amazing. [I] didn’t recognize myself.
For this one [speech forensics] event, I have a character, and our coach was like, “Your character needs to have an identity. Write up a background, everything about him. What does he like to do? How old is he?” I pretty much wrote myself into this person’s bio cuz it was pretty much myself anyway. I don’t want to go into the whole bio. It would be pretty literal. I’m twenty-one years old, six feet tall… (Laughs.)
Is there a particular life lesson you feel you are still learning?
So many. I sat in my car the other day, and I didn’t want to be memorizing this speech because I didn’t like the speech, I didn’t think it was good, and I didn’t want to do it; I wanted to do many other things, but I sat there, and I was like, “What kind of a man do you want to be? Well, there [are] a lot of kinds of man that I want to be that would sit here and memorize this speech even though it sucks, I don’t want to do it, there [are] so many other things.” To become the person that you want to be takes a lot more effort than one might realize, and every decision counts, as far as identity development goes. Little things like memorizing a speech even though you don’t want to would take you closer to being the kind of person that has the work ethic that you want, that you do things even when it sucks.
What is your greatest fear?
That’s one of two questions that I ask other people frequently and myself semi-frequently. Every time, I think the answer’s changed. The two questions I’ll ask are: “What is it that you want the most?” and “What are you most afraid of?” Often, the answers to those questions will point at each other. If you’re sure about one, but not the other, you can look at one and it’s pointing at the other because you’re moving towards something, but also away from something else a lot of the time. At least, that’s what I’ve experienced.
And did I have an answer for this the last time I asked myself? I can’t remember. I just asked my friend three weeks ago. She answered; I can’t remember what I answered back. It’s hard to say, at least right now, because fear is often associated with some kind of emotional reaction, but not always. I guess the greatest kinds of fears aren’t associated with an emotional reaction because it’s so intrinsic that you avoid it to such a core part of your identity that you’re not even afraid; you just don’t. If you’re super afraid of public speaking, being onstage, you might feel that fear, but if you’re so afraid of it, you’d never get there. That’d be the truest form of fear.
[I’m] still not a hundred percent sure. I can give you previous ones that I’ve had. The only one that I can remember is of becoming the kind of person that I used to be, sort of like a remission of identity back into a very insecure, wussy high school [self], to put it very simply. It’s more dynamic than that, but in essence, that’s what it would look like: insecure, wussy, placing all of my identity in what other people thought of me, things like that. That was something I used to be afraid of, but not anymore because I can’t think of what I’m the most afraid of off my mind at this moment, but hopefully, that’ll give you some kind of idea.
Can you offer any profound advice?
I think, no, I don’t have any profound advice. Not because I don’t have things that I think would be good for other people to know, but because what advice I would give would be specific to the thing that the person is seeking, and it would have to be asked of. I would never just give somebody advice; they would have to ask me.
A very day-to-day example would be in the gym, where I live, you will see people doing things at a suboptimal level at an optimal level, and they’re just doing it straight-up wrong. You’ll see lots of different things, but you won’t ever correct someone else unless you worked there. If you had a t-shirt that said [whatever gym name], you’d probably have the authority to tell them, “You’re going to hurt yourself very quickly,” and they’d listen to you. But if you’re not, and you’re just another lifter, if you attempted to give someone advice, they’re not likely to listen to you because it’s very disrespectful because what you’re telling them is, “I know what’s right, and you’re doing it wrong, and you need to do it like I’m doing it.” And any time that you do that, people are very often unreceptive to it.
First, you’d have to build a relationship with them; you’d have to care about them as a person first, and then if they asked you, because then you know that they’re seeking and they actually care about the subject, then it would be proper to give them advice or wisdom. And I think something similar would be true to this kind of profound advice that you’re asking me about. Maybe about life, about Christ, discipleship, you’d need somebody that was already seeking a question rather than giving someone an answer to a question they might not have.