That first day when you came and sat on the window ledge by the breakfast table, I was a bit taken aback. I mean, a guy is sitting with his family looking out over the Pacific, still a little dazed from 16 hours of flight when a 6 and a half foot male weighing in towards 300 lbs plops down at eye level with you.
You grinned that big grin with several teeth missing that said, “Hi, I’m friendly.” Your gold polo with the resort emblem clearly stated you were an employee.
“Everybody calls me Ace. I’m here every morning. No worries. Where you folks from?” We bantered a bit and you moved on. Later you came out with your battered guitar and sang children’s songs to the little ones that were everywhere. They came and sat at your feet or you knelt down at their table.
Even the most petulant would soften. One child reached over to touch your arm as if to insure that you were real. For the next six days you were always there; village tours, fire ceremonies, games and every morning with your battered guitar, singing to the children.
You dressed as a Fijian warrior and did the war dance. You took us to a wedding of your niece and treated us like family. You took my teenage sons into town to shop for shirts that would signify we were of the same clan as you. More importantly we comfortably let you. You showed us your life. Most of all you showed us your heart and in so doing you showed us the heart of your people.
I knew from the first moment that you harbored a story of trial and tribulation behind the dark pool of your eyes. We recognized the wounds in one another. Both of us sought to heal and pay back through our love of the children. Everyone knew you. They respected you.
The day before we left a father from Australia told us that he had come there to the resort yearly since childhood. He had a photo of you as a fifteen-year-old “cheetah of youth” lighting a torch, wearing native dress.
Before the scars was this lithe, exuberant boy. Even in a still photo you could sense the need to run toward the next flame … the next person … the next experience. Even in that photo of a youth,one could sense the joy and grace of a people such as I have never known. I believe that you, my friend, more than anyone we encountered, are Fiji … from the laughing children to the scarred warriors.
Thank you Ace. Thank you for putting your arm around my sons in friendship. On the last day you came to the breakfast table to say goodbye. You sang a plaintive refrain that I had not heard while my wife cried openly.
I listened to the yearning hope of a powerful man with a child’s heart and saw in my mind’s eye a youth lighting a torch that reveals the soul of a people bound to land and sea.
In that moment, on a balmy Pacific morning, you and all of Fiji became a part of my family forever. I suspect there are many you have caused to feel the same.