Stop Calling School Shootings Surreal


Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine 2018.

Surreal: bizarre, unusual, freakish, unearthly, dreamlike.

When a school shooting happened at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, 15 people died, including both shooters, and 24 others were wounded. This happened before the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. Columbine was the 9/11 of school safety.

When Sandy Hook happened on December 14, 2012, 20 six- and seven-year-olds died along with six adults. The event brought back our collective memory of Columbine and every other school shooting since then. Surely, many of us thought, the slaughter of young schoolchildren would inspire members of Congress to pass sensible gun control. We were wrong.

In the five years and one and a half months since Sandy Hook, there have been at least 239 school shootings nationwide. This includes the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018. Of the 438 people shot in these events, 138 died. (New York Times, Jugal K. Patel, Feb. 15, 2018, based on statistics from the Gun Violence Archive.)

School shootings happen so regularly now that they’re not surreal anymore. What is surreal is that they continue to happen because Congress will not enact sensible gun control. It’s surreal that lobbyists for gun manufacturers control the national debate about assault weapons and measures to keep mentally ill people from purchasing weapons. It’s surreal that we let them paralyze us with their mantra – “That wouldn’t have prevented this tragedy and that won’t solve the problem.”

Frequent school shootings have become a reality for our country, a horror to which we are in danger of growing numb. Go to and scroll through the pages of school shootings nationwide in the first month and a half of 2018. Parents send their kids to school and keep their fingers crossed that they’ll come home alive at the end of the day. We cry, send thoughts, offer prayers, and then wait for the next school shooting. This is beyond surreal. It’s a nightmare.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.


Love and Waimea Canyon


Love at Waimea Canyon

Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine 2018.

When I last visited Waimea Canyon on the island of Kaua’i, I saw a red padlock left on the guardrail at the viewing deck. Thinking back to the love locks left on the bridges of Paris, I immediately thought, “How romantic.” The lock’s infinity symbol and two hearts told me all I needed to know. Lovers placed the lock there to declare a love they hope will last forever.

This lone lock, with its shiny red color set against the dramatic backdrop of Waimea Canyon, left me wondering about the couple whose love it symbolized. Who are they? Where are they from? Is their relationship still strong? Are they still in love?

Meeting. Dating. Falling in love. Wedding planning. Honeymooning. The honeymoon phase. No matter the ups and downs, these are the easy stages of a relationship. The curve balls come later. Colicky babies. Ornery teens. Health issues. Emotional baggage. Financial surprises. Tragedies. Losses.

Waimea Canyon was created over millions of years. Millions. Our lives on this planet last a mere blip of time. While we’re going through rough patches in our relationships, we forget that pain and struggle won’t last forever. Love does, though. So be like this bright red lock and hang on. Create a love that lasts forever.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.

Lila’s Hō’ailona (Sign, Symbol, Omen)


Lila’s Hō’ailona. Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine 2018.


Lila’s Hō’ailona. Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine 2018.

Last week I went home to Honolulu for my maternal grandmother’s funeral. Grandma, who I called Lila, lived to the age of 94, three months short of her 95th birthday. Lila’s funeral and burial took place in Kaneohe at the foot of the misty Ko’olau Mountains that have been magical for me since I was a child. It was a typical Hawaiian winter day with cloudy skies, intermittent rain, and temperatures in the low 70’s.

Just the day before, I learned that I was to deliver the eulogy. I didn’t have the time nor the concentration to prepare a speech. Knowing I would wing it, I prayed for the grace to be coherent.

My mom and her two brothers sat to the left of Lila’s casket. I sat in the first pew to the right of the casket with Mom’s two closest cousins. Mom’s cousins are like sisters to her, and I grew up calling them aunties. We periodically stood to greet friends and family, but our gaze always returned to Lila’s casket.

Suddenly one my aunts pointed to the flowers beside the podium and said, “She’s here!” I was startled, and I wasn’t prepared to see Lila’s ghost, but I looked. I saw only flowers. “See the butterfly on the flower?” my aunt asked.

There it was, a monarch butterfly sitting on an orchid. Unlike the usual orange and black monarch, this butterfly was white. When people brought the milkweed plant to Hawai’i in the 1850’s, the plants carried eggs of the monarch butterfly. The white genetic mutation of the monarch was discovered on the island of O’ahu in the 1960’s. Less than ten percent of monarch butterflies in Hawai’i are white.

My aunty walked toward the podium and took a picture of the butterfly. I did the same. A few people asked what we were doing and then followed suit. The butterfly never moved.

The butterfly stayed on the orchid as the priest began the funeral service, and it sat there for so long that I leaned over to my aunty and asked, “Are you sure that’s not a fake butterfly?” “No,” my aunty said, “It’s moving.” I didn’t see any movement, which only confirmed for me that it was a fake butterfly.

When the priest finished the religious part of the funeral, a singer performed a few songs. The butterfly seemed content to sit through the music, so I turned my attention to the singer and got distracted. A short while later, I looked back at the orchid. The butterfly was gone. “I guess it wasn’t fake after all,” I thought to myself.

Then something told me to look up. The butterfly was flitting near the ceiling. I smiled and watched it as the singer finished her last song. When the butterfly disappeared through a high window, I thought Lila was saying goodbye. My heart called out, “No, don’t go.”

The music stopped, and I stood up hesitantly to deliver the eulogy I had not prepared. I spoke from my heart and told everyone about the grandma I knew as dignified, self-reliant, brave, kind, forgiving, hard working, and generous. I told them I had a yellow plumeria in my hair because Lila picked yellow plumerias from the tree in the front yard when I needed to make a lei at school. I reminded my family to remember who we were: children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of this humble and remarkable woman. I thanked Lila for loving me and our family so well.

I returned to my seat wondering if my talk made any sense and hoping I hadn’t been a complete mess. My eyes drifted back up to the ceiling. The butterfly reappeared through the window and flitted briefly before it left again. It didn’t reappear for the rest of the day.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.



Got Kuleana?

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“Kuleana,” written and directed by Brian Kohne

I can’t wait to see the movie “Kuleana.” Written and directed by Brian Kohne, this movie has a message about its title, which means “responsibility”: Kuleana is a privilege, not a burden.

If you study Hawaiian history and Hawaiiana, you’ve probably heard the term, “Hawaiian Renaissance.” The term refers to the 1970’s when cultural practitioners, political activists, and kūpuna (elders) brought about a resurgence of Hawaiian culture – Ōlelo Hawai’i (Hawaiian language), hula, mele (music), traditional customs and practices, and political organization. Today there are hula hālau (schools) and dancers all over the world; Hawaiian musicians go on world tours regularly; people from around the world travel to Hawai’i to study with artists and cultural practitioners; schools include online teaching; the Hōkūle’a has completed a worldwide voyage; and Hawaiians exercise their political power with growing efficacy.

I would love to see another Hawaiian renaissance of sorts, one that inspires younger generations who cut their teeth on all things visual and digital, and movies like “Kuleana” could play a huge part in this. When you weave the past, present day, and the future together in storytelling, all kinds of light bulbs might turn on.

Set in 1971, “Kuleana” is the story about a Vietnam vet who returns home to Mau’i to protect his family, defend their land, and clear his father’s name. The movie features a cast of actors from Hawai’i, including Moronai Kanekoa, who I had the pleasure of watching in the one-man play, “The Legend of Ko’olau.” The movie won several film awards in 2017, and Willie K wrote the original score. Nuff said?

Hurry, Brian Kohne, bring your movie to northern California! We’ll get the popcorn ready.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.


New Year, New Reality, Old Hope


On Saturday January 13, 2018, my brother called me from the bathroom of his home outside Hilo on the Island of Hawai’i (the Big Island). An emergency alert warning of an imminent missile attack had appeared on his cellphone. The warning said this was not a drill and to seek shelter. The local TV station also aired the warning.

My brain struggled to absorb the information as I listened to him say that he called our parents who lived a few miles away and told them to hunker down in their bathroom. I wondered why my brother, who is not a funny guy, chose to dive into the world of pranks with such an elaborate ruse, but I played along. “So, what, the North Korean dude is gonna nuke you?” I said with just a hint of sarcasm. Instead of laughing, my brother replied, “I think so.”

“Let me get online and I’ll call you back,” I said, determined to figure out what the hell was going on. The emergency missile alert was now staring back at me from the screen of my cellphone in northern California. So this was what a missile alert looked like. All caps, but no exclamation points.

I turned on CNN. Regular programming. Nothing made sense. I ran to the backdoor and called for my husband. He was listening to a local Big Island radio station (KAPA) as he did yard work. He heard the missile alert, but when the station returned to music, he assumed it was a mistake.

We looked up to see the CNN talking head had a banner below him that said the missile alert was an error. There was no missile headed to the state where all but few of my family lived. I called my brother back, but it was only after I texted him a screenshot of the CNN broadcast that he felt sure enough to emerge from his bathroom. His text reply, “ty,” told me he could finally breathe.

My mom, 77 years young, had already heard about the false alarm and chuckled when I called her. I was relieved that she could laugh and that she and my 79-year-old dad didn’t stroke out or have heart attacks during the alarm. My mom said she packed a bag when she saw the alert on her TV. I’m not sure what to think about that.

It seemed like most of the country spent the next day processing what happened the morning of January 13th. An employee of the Hawai’i Emergency Management Agency had simply neglected to press the “drill” button during a standard shift-change exercise. Although the agency notice recalling the alert reached Facebook and Twitter, another glitch in the system delayed (for 38 minutes) the notice to cellphones. The agency has already instituted a two-person sign-off before the alarm is sent again.

The movie (in my head) plot did not occur – the Russians did not hack into our systems to get our country to fire back at North Korea under the mistaken presumption that North Korea had fired a missile at Hawai’i. But the damage has been revealed. What happened on January 13th made me think back to my school days in Hawai’i when monthly air raid sirens sounded and we all got under our desks. January 13th brought me back to the days of the Cold War when terms like “balance of power” and “detente” appeared in daily newspapers. Instead of the USA and the USSR, the players are now the USA and North Korea, with Russia looming in the background poised to act as puppeteer. And with no love lost between our country and nations around the world, North Korea might not be the only nation that could be goaded into starting a nuclear war with us.

January 13th happened. The scare was real. But I can’t live like the threat of nuclear annihilation is imminent. I’m not stupid, and I’m not choosing to bury my head in the sand. You see in the world and others what is inside yourself. I see a sane world where goodness prevails, so I have hope.


©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.

Père Noël (Father Christmas)

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Ho! Ho! Ho! I’m coming soon! 

I have heard many people say that there are no such things as coincidences, that everything happens for a reason. There have been many happenstances in my life that have made me believe this same thing. One such thing happened yesterday.

Traffic had been particularly bad on my way downtown from my suburban home. Dreading the thought of getting back on the freeway to get home, I decided to take surface streets out of the downtown area and maybe get on the freeway later.

In my backseat were Christmas packages that I needed to mail to family and friends. I was tired and eager to get home, but I decided to take a slight detour and drive to the main post office. When I finished at the counter, I noticed a room in the back of the post office that was decorated as “Santa Station.” A wave of inexplicable curiosity came over me, and I walked toward the room.

I stood in the middle of the poorly lit room and saw special edition stamps and stamp tee shirts displayed. I didn’t know stamp tee shirt existed. “Hmm,” I thought to myself somewhat amused, “It’s like a post office gift shop. Weird.”

Then a woman’s voice came from behind me. She explained that staff opened letters addressed to Santa Claus because they were not deliverable. Staff catalogued, photocopied, and organized the letters, keeping envelopes with return addresses of the children who wrote Santa. I’ve seen TV news stories about this post office Santa Station, but I never paid enough attention to realize how the magic happened. And there I was behind the curtain.

“The letters are in here,” the woman said, motioning to hanging file folders in boxes. “You can look through them, and if you want, you can be Santa for the child.”

My hands reached for the first file folder and went toward the middle of the file, randomly pulling out a letter. I saw the handwriting of a four-year-old child – letters oversized, crooked and uneven, spacing very generous. The handwriting warmed my heart, but the language was what shocked me. The child wrote in French.

I studied French in high school and college for seven years, and I have continued my French studies with the Alliance Français. I have been to France three times, and I wish I could return every year. I’m a Francophile.

So what are the chances that a French-speaking child’s letter to Santa would reach a French-speaking American woman in Northern California? One hundred percent. There are no coincidences. Everything happens for a reason.

Whose Santa might you be?

Joyeux Noël. Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Happy Holidays. And may we all be blessings to one another in the coming new year.


 ©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

Love Must Push Back 2.0


The shocking and heartbreaking display of hatred that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday August 12, 2017 triggered a case of déjà vu in me. The clash between the Unite the Right rally and the counter-protest brought me back to November 2016 when I wrote my post, “Love Must Push Back.”

I wrote this post after watching months of disrespect, bullying, misogyny, bigotry, racism, and xenophobia targeted at women, racial minorities, immigrants, veterans, the LGBT community, and disabled persons. “When hate pushes against and looms over some of us, we have the choice to stand together, lock arms, and push back,” I wrote.

Physical violence ensued in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017. Counter-protestor Heather Heyer, a Caucasian 32-year-old paralegal, was killed when James Fields drove a car into a group of counter-protesters. Nineteen other people were injured. Two state troopers, Lt. Jay Cullen and Berke Bates, who were providing aerial public safety support, died when their helicopter crashed.

The day after the conflict in Charlottesville, an African-American pastor and community leader said that he would have told the citizens of Charlottesville to stay home and pay no attention to the Unite the Right rally, as if none of the deaths would have happened if counter-protesters had stayed home. Blame the victims? This leader believes that reacting to, and engaging with, those who espouse white supremacy gives them more power.

If abolitionists had stayed home and not opposed the institution of slavery, how many more generations of slaves would there have been? If Rosa Parks had kept her mouth shut and continued to sit at the back of the bus, how many more generations would have lived in the segregated South under Jim Crow laws? If Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and civil rights activists had stayed home and not marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, would there have been a Voting Rights Act of 1965?

The citizens of Charlottesville counter-protested on August 12, 2017 to make their own statement: their city is not a city of division and hatred; its citizens stand against white supremacy, prejudice, and bigotry. As Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said to the Nazi marchers at his press conference that evening, “There is no place for you here. There is no place for you in America.”

Standing up to the devaluation of members of our society is the only way to protect what our country has spent decades trying to create – equality of rights and opportunities for all. It comes with risks, as does anything else worth doing, which is why some will choose to stay home. But defending ourselves, defending others, and defending a society that values mutual respect and peaceful co-existence requires us to push back against hatred in the name of love.


©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.