He watched the Buddhist monks practice their archery at Kapiolani Park. They would draw back the bow string, close their eyes, then let their arrows fly.
If these monks were Cupid, he thought, no one would fall in love. Because their eyes were closed, the arrows almost always missed not only the bullseye in the middle of the big fat targets of bundled dry grass, but they would go way off, flying over, under, or to the side, and many arrows died before they even reached the target.
He asked one of the monks why they closed their eyes, knowing that they were probably going to miss the target altogether.
“We don’t shoot the arrows to hit a real target,” the monk said. “The target is only there to give us the sense of a target. The true target, or true goal,” he continued, “is focusing our attention on our breathing and the smooth draw and release of the arrow. It is a kind of meditation. Really, if we hit the physical target, it is purely by chance. We are not training ourselves to shoot something real.”
Not focus on the target? Not hit something real? The boy tried to make sense of this. It sounded interesting. He thanked the monk for the information.
One day when he and his father went to buy fishing equipment at a local sporting goods store, he noticed that a bow and arrow set was on sale. He asked his father if he could buy it.
“Ah, I don’t know. That’s not a toy,” his father said.
The boy pleaded.
“Well, okay, but if I buy it for you, I want you to promise me that you’ll only practice with it if your mother or I are supervising you.
It’s dangerous, understand?”
Back at home, he removed the bow and four arrows from the packaging. Touching an arrow tip he was surprised at how sharp it was. He sucked at the pinpoint of blood.
“Come on down,” his father called from the lānai skirting the bottom floor of the house. “Let’s try out the bow and arrows.”
He brought them downstairs. When he walked outside, he saw that his father had set up an old spare tire as a target. The tire had been crammed with dry banana leaves, and one of the targets they’d bought was taped to the tire.
“Let me see that,” said his dad, taking the bow and one of the arrows.
He watched as his dad fitted the string in the notch at the end of the arrow. Carefully pulling the arrow back, his dad paused for a moment, took a noticeable breath in, then, a split-second later, let go the string.
The arrow flew through the air and hit the black rubber tire.
“Wow, Daddy, that was pretty good. Have you done this before?”
His father handed him the bow. “Yes. A long time ago I tried hunting with a bow and arrow. This was when I was growing up on Kaua’i. I was hunting wild pig.”
“Wow, that sounds so cool.”
His father shook his head. “Well, it may sound cool, but it wasn’t for me. Finally one time I actually hit a pig, brought it down, but the arrow didn’t kill it.”
His father took a long pause before saying, “It was like I was frozen. I knew I needed to finish it off with my knife, but I just stood there watching it squirm. The squealing was awful. I wanted to put it out of its misery, but I couldn’t seem to do it.”
“But you did?”
He tousled the boy’s hair. “I never wanted to hunt anymore after that. You know, I never ate pig again.”
He was silent. The boy waited.
“But hey,” he changed the topic. “Now you try.”
The boy picked up one of the arrows and fitted it to the string as he’d seen his father do.
“Okay now,” said his dad, “pull back real slow and easy and then hold still.”
The boy did so until he couldn’t pull the string any farther back.
“Take a deep breath,” said his father, “wait a split second to focus on the target, and let the arrow go.”
The image of the pig came to the boy’s mind just as he let the arrow fly. It sailed quite a bit over the target.
“Keep your eyes on the target when you release the arrow,” said his dad.
The boy nodded. His finger was bleeding a little bit again. He picked up the third arrow and carefully followed the same procedure, taking a deep breath, then releasing the arrow, making sure he kept his eye on the target. But as he let go, the picture of the pig squirming, the sound of it squealing in pain came to mind again.
This time the arrow stuck in the dirt a good ten feet in front of the target.
“That’s too much of an adjustment,” said his dad. He handed the boy the last arrow.
Thinking about what the Buddhist monk had told him, the boy drew back the arrow. He was looking at the target, focused on the black circle, but then he closed his eyes, thought about the monk, took a breath, and let the string go.
He opened his eyes to his dad saying, “Whoa, I think we’ll have to say that one is lost, huh?”
“Where’d it go?” the boy asked.
“It’s stuck in a branch up in the tree there,” his dad said, pointing to the huge monkeypod. “Where were you aiming?”
“Ah,” he hesitated, “I guess I’m not sure. I closed my eyes.”
“Not sure? What? Closing your eyes is not going to help you hit something.”
“I know,” said the boy. “I guess I was trying not to hit the target.”
“I wasn’t trying to hit the target.”
“Why?” his dad asked.
“It’s what the Buddhist monks do when they practice archery at Kapiolani Park. They don’t really shoot arrows to hit something. I was trying to be like a Buddhist monk and not hit the target by closing my eyes and concentrating on my breathing and stuff.”
The dad nodded. “I see.” He paused. Then, “Well I, you know what, I’m going inside now.”
The boy looked up at his father’s face. “Okay,” he said.
The dad disappeared inside.
The boy looked at the red dot on his finger, sucked on it, and thought about the pig suffering before his father could kill it.
Even though he’d been told not to use the bow and arrow unless his mom or dad were supervising him, as quickly as he could, he retrieved and shot the other three arrows up into the enormous tree so they would be lost as well. Then he put the target in the back of a storage closet along with the bow.
From the kitchen window, the father had watched his son shoot the last arrows up into the tree. He wouldn’t say anything to him about this. He thought of the pig, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath.