Ethan R. Okura
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

During the past two and a half months of lockdown, I’ve had some time to walk around the neighborhood or take breaks from working at home to ponder life, and I’ve come to some interesting realizations.

Here in Hawai‘i we’ve been fortunate because COVID-19 has not killed many people — only 17 deaths as of this writing. Yet I hesitate to state it that way, because each life is precious. My heart goes out to the families, friends and loved ones of those who were affected.

However, at this same moment, New York has had over 24,000 COVID-19 deaths. This also hits close to home for me, because I lived in New York City for six years during and after law school, and I still have many friends there.

The attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, happened while I was in law school. It was a horrific tragedy to see friends and co-workers directly impacted by that act of terrorism. I imagine that historic event might have felt surreal to many Hawai‘i residents — almost like a dream or something happening in a movie.

Maybe this coronavirus plague feels like that for many of us here in Hawai‘i. We read about it on the news and online, we see it on TV, but we are having a different experience here in the islands.

This is not to minimize the economic impact that we are all feeling on account of newly required safety precautions, or the pain and suffering felt by those who have been involved in, or affected by, recent riots and protests throughout the country. Many of our fellow citizens are struggling to survive economically, socially and even physically.

And yet, sometimes even things we know to be true don’t feel real to us until we experience a direct impact. For example, we all know that we will die someday. But instead of living each day as if it is our last, we typically push the thought away or set it aside as some undefined, remote future possibility. I am guilty of this as well.

It’s easy to get caught up in the rhythm of our weekly schedules which include work, friends, family and hobbies. We fret about what to eat, where to go, how to save and invest for the near future and for our kids’ college tuition or our retirement. But what if we never even make it that far? What if tomorrow were to be our last day on this beautiful, blue speck in this small corner of the universe? What would we be most concerned about then? I’ve come up with three things.

First, I would want to be sure that I had adequately planned before my passing, so as to make the transition as smooth as possible for my family. Of course, there’s the obvious: making sure I have enough life insurance and setting up my will and trust to provide for my loved ones financially. But it would be equally important to write them a letter to explain how I feel about them and share my values.

Second, I have come to the conclusion that it’s important to live life being true to yourself and your dreams and not conform to the expectation of others. Certainly, there are considerations like fulfilling responsibilities and obligations, but it does not matter how old you are: you can follow your heart. I know that it’s easier to put off pursuing your passion until someday in the future when it’s more practical. But that day might never come. If you’ve always wanted to play the guitar, learn to paint, try surfing or win a fencing championship, don’t wait to chase that dream.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, treat others with love and respect — aloha and hö‘ihi. Not just to those who are like you, but to everyone and everything. It might seem that civility is all but forgotten. Society feels broken. You might despair at the state of the world portrayed by the news. But all is not lost. Most people are still decent. Most people want a better world.

We might be frustrated, feel unheard and misunderstood. Nevertheless, everywhere you go in the world, we all are fundamentally the same. We all need food, shelter, safety, meaningful work, to love and be loved. Remember that despite our political, societal, economic or racial differences, we all deserve respect and consideration.

May we all take some time regularly to ponder on the importance of these things: to give others the benefit of the doubt, to treat each other well without expectations, to live our lives joyfully in a way that we can proud of, to prepare for those final goodbyes and, in the end, to be able to hold our head up and smile while fondly reminiscing about a life well-lived.

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Ethan R. Okura received his JD from Columbia University in 2002. He specializes in estate planning to protect assets from nursing home costs, probate, estate taxes and creditors.

This column is for general information only and is not tax or legal advice.  The facts of your case may change the advice given.  Do not rely on the information in this column without consulting an estate-planning specialist.


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