The old man and the sea

It was September 1952. I was on Oahu. On the way home from a brief shopping trip — we didn’t call them sprees in those days — I sighted and purchased a copy of Life magazine. Cost me 20 cents. Ernest Hemingway was on the cover. Like everyone in those days who loved to read, Papa Hemingway was my favorite author. Flipping to page 25 I read this: “The Editors of Life magazine proudly present for the first time and in full a great new book by Ernest Hemingway: The Old Man and the Sea.” It sold 5 million copies in two days.

This work went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.

I went home to open three cans of Campbell’s soup for dinner — three soup plates — I went without. I read my dinner.

Today, March 26, 2015, I shared my dinner — soup, made by hand, not canned — with another old man and the sea, Robert Redford, a Best Actor winner for his brilliant performance in “All is Lost.” This is a must-see. Inspiring. Stunning. As a sailor I sat glued to my seat, holding my breath, totally lost in his perilous adventure. This was a 21st century update, in Technicolor and sound — almost mute — on steroids. I think Hemingway would have loved it. I imagined my husband sitting beside me loving it, too.

Reviews read: “Grade A: Redford’s performance is powerful.” “Dazzling: Cinema at its purest. Redford is triumphant.”

What struck me, however, was an almost poetic metaphor. Today versus yesterday. 2015 versus 1952. A world too rich. A world too poor. Santiago and his skiff and his marlin and his run of bad luck. A 75-year-old man, the character — one character, he’s not given a name — in “All is Lost” and a Columbia 39. Virginia Jean. The mast is 65 feet tall! The monstrous cargo containers that pass him in broad daylight in the shipping lanes and see him not. Bad luck.

This old man’s courage — his strength, his attitude, he never gives up — reminds me of so many of us on Kauai who battle a force as strong as the wind and the weather and the sea. Forces that would destroy our lives — and the beauty and life of this magnificent island paradise — as surely as the laws of nature and bad luck will destroy this man and his yacht. Forces over which we have no control.

I don’t mean to indulge in hyperbola. To be dramatic. I mean to express a real-life battle — a seemingly un-winnable battle, so overwhelming, so exhausting — we despair. We lose courage. We lose strength. We need a break but we don’t get one. But we don’t give up.

The forces of nature are that. Natural. Cruel.

The forces we face here on Kauai are unnatural. Insane. They seem to despise nature. Defy nature. Vast land masses turned into dollars. The production of food grown for profit, not nourishment. Beauty turned to concrete. Fresh water defiled. Fresh air vanquished. Like the old men, we weaken.

But we don’t give up.


Bettejo Dux is a Kalaheo resident and author of “The Scam: A Madcap Romp through North Shore Kauai.”


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