Hoka Hey

Hoka Hey is printed in simple red block letters on a small sign hanging next to my neighbor’s door in our winter RV park here in Texas.  It is a rallying war cry attributed to Crazy Horse of the Oglala Lakota tribe and has come to be interpreted as:  Today is a good day to die.

My neighbor, Mike, says the small sign represents one of his prime directives.  Not that he plans to die each day; nor does he expect to ride into battle.  But he has certainly had his share of battles:  two tours in Vietnam, two difficult divorces, five major heart attacks, 11 surgeries, a quintuple bypass, life with a pacemaker, and a recurrent struggle with addiction to cigarettes.

When such is your rallying cry each morning, it must inspire you to live that day to the fullest.  It probably helps you to accept those things that are outside of your control and be grateful for the measure of life that you have been granted to walk this earth.

Dawny adores Mr. Mike.  He gives her cookies and love.  She heartily hopes that his final Hoka Hey will be a day far into the future.  In her simple dog’s view–and, though simple, it is no less true, honest, or relevant than some of the more complicated ways humans have of looking at things–Dawny gets it.  Today is always a good day to die.  But it is an even better day to live.  Live and gather cookies.

Mike was kind enough to share some of his experiences, thoughts, and significant life moments with me.  It is an honor when another human opens a part of their heart and their story to you.  I hope to do his words justice.

Mike dreamed of living the full-time RV life for a long time before he hit the road in May of last year.  He spent eight years researching, reading RV forums and blogs, and making other preparations, such as downsizing from a 4,000 square-foot home to a condominium and from 70 tupperware containers to the 16 he has now.

While making these preparations, Mike was laid off from his job in the IT industry (just before retirement).  Already involved in the care of his aging father, Mike became his full-time caregiver for the next four years.  They were best friends.  Before Mike’s father died, he made his son promise that he would follow through on his dream.  He also set aside some money to help finance the purchase of Mike’s rig, a 25 foot class-C motorhome.  After settling his father’s estate, Mike hit the road.

Earlier in his adult life, Mike had an Australian sheepdog named Molly.  She lived with him for 19 wonderful years, serving as his best four-legged friend.  In the end, she went blind.  Her strong spirit still sent her running through the world as if she were sighted, though, and she would crash into trees, fences, and other unforgivingly solid objects.  Eventually, Mike had to let the vet put his beloved companion to rest.

Hoka Hey.  Death has a way of shaping a person.  The bond of love and respect Mike shared with his father, as well as this particular dog, formed echoes that have guided his steps and his outlook to today.

For instance, a neighboring couple recently had to leave their little beagle, Sally, behind for a few weeks in a local kennel while they travel to another state.  Mike regularly goes to visit Sally in the kennel.  To love her.  To reassure her that everything will be all right.  That takes a mighty big, soft heart.

Mike happens to be a strong introvert, like me.  He enjoys his time of solitude, reading four or five books a week.  But, unlike me, one of his favorite pastimes is sitting outside of his rig, visiting with neighbors who drop by and giving doggy cookies to each and every pooch who ventures near.  He always has a welcoming smile and a friendly wave.

In this way, Mike meets a wide array of people as they circulate in and out of the park, many of whom share some of his most formidable, challenging, life-altering experiences.  He estimates that at least half of our fellow campers here are veterans.

Mike comes from a family that has an unbroken line of over 200 years of honorable military service.  His father served in three wars:  World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.  Mike did two tours in Vietnam, winning several medals and ribbons of honor.  He says that he was glad to have served his country, but he would not want to go back and do it again.  The war was hard enough, but returning home to the dismal, hostile reception our soldiers received at that time shook the ground upon which he walked.

He has lived with that trauma for decades.  It has affected his behavior and his relationships, his reactions and his interactions.  And not necessarily in a healthy way.  Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) wasn’t even officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) until 1980, when they added it to their diagnostic manual.  Much of APA’s early work and research was based on experience with Vietnam vets.

Hoka Hey.  No, it is not Mike’s turn yet.  Dawny says so.  As does Sally.  And Max, and Beauty, and countless other discerning canine souls.  Not to mention the many two-legged friends Mike has made in his short time since starting down this new road.  He has gifts to share.  And cookies.  He has life to savor.  And enjoy.

Mike’s son and daughter, his sister and her family, and many old friends are still in his hometown area in Ohio.  In his house on wheels, he will be able to visit them in the temperate months, then return south for the winter.  His sister and her husband just bought a 36 foot class-A motorhome (the large bus-sized type) and are planning to join the snowbirds who fly south for the winter, spending at least some of their time traveling and camping with Mike.  These are the things that help to ease the pang when loved ones are missed.

Dawny and I wish the absolute best for Mike as he continues his journey.  We have faith that the beauty of his spirit, the steadfastness of his love, and the strength of his intellect will continue to pave his road with integrity and compassion.  With the rise of each day’s sun, may his loved ones and friends (both old and new, two legged and four) bring him great joy until he reaches his destination, his final Hoka Hey.