Love Must Push Back 2.0

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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.

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Mea Wiwo ‘Ole (Adventurer)

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A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Honolulu to dance in a hula show at the Neal Blaisdell Concert Hall. The show (hō’ike) featured 400 hula dancers from different Hawaiian islands, California, Montana, Canada, Tahiti, Japan, and New Zealand. The culmination of many months of planning, preparing, and practicing, the show was a celebration of Kumu Hula (hula teacher) Blaine Kamalani Kia and his 30 years of teaching. All of the dancers in the show were his students (haumana) or students of kumu hula trained by him.

None of us had ever danced in a show this big. The logistical requirements were challenging, to say the least. For dancers who were also organizers and leaders (alaka’i), the work doubled or tripled. The little sleep afforded by the pre- and post-show schedules that included rehearsals, making adornments from ti leaves, and ceremonial protocols, like our sunrise prayer service (haipule) at the beach, pushed us out of our physical comfort zones.

I’m not a natural performer. In fact, my Hawaiian name means “the reserved/shy one.” I dance on stage to conquer my shyness. Still, performing on stage doesn’t terrify me as much as making adornments from ti leaves and other plants and flowers. It takes me a long time, with many re-do’s, start-over’s, and assists from my alaka’i , to complete my adornments. Needless to say, I had some anxiety even before I boarded the plane for Honolulu. I had to work through my anxieties in an exhausted state, away from my home and routine.

The show was fantastic – a beautiful mixture of ancient chants (oli), song (mele), ancient hula (kahiko), modern hula (auana), and nostalgia. It lasted five hours, two hours past the scheduled three. We spent much of this time standing backstage, barefoot on concrete floors, waiting, and getting lined up to go on stage. Our feet, legs, and backs ached for days after.

But when it was all over and our tired and swollen bodies had recovered, we were left with wonderful memories, new friends from around the world, and a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I learned things about myself and those around me, I acquired some new skills, and I felt a teeny bit tougher.

This experience made me realize how exhilarating it was to do new things, in new places, in new ways. It made me see that I seldom willingly wander out of my comfort zone. If it’s true that people cross our paths for a reason, I met two individuals who helped me understand the importance of adventure.

On the flight to Honolulu, I sat next to a young man in his mid-twenties who was moving from California to Honolulu. He was a surfer who had visited Hawai’i several times. He had no family in Hawai’i, but he felt drawn to live there. He got a job with a local business, found an apartment, shipped his car and some of his things, and was now flying to Honolulu with two pieces of checked luggage. This young man was neither nervous nor excited, he was serene. His adventure would be as much inward as it would be outward in his new home.

On the plane back to California, I sat next to an unaccompanied minor. This poised and charming young boy, who looked eight or nine years old to my eyes, surprised me when he said he was 12. He was coming back from a visit to his relatives on O’ahu. This wasn’t his first time flying to Honolulu alone, but this time he had also flown to Mau’i for the first time to visit an uncle.

The young man and the little boy fascinated me. As someone who dreams of moving back to Hawai’i some day, I felt a vicarious thrill sitting next to someone who had the guts to pursue his dream and make it happen. As a parent of two grown children, I marveled at the young boy who boarded planes alone and flew across an ocean to visit relatives. These individuals ventured into the unknown with courage enough to outweigh their fears. Both had an aura of composure and confidence. Neither was driven by the need for attention or adrenaline.

Here’s to following the lighted exit path and leaving my comfort zone more often.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

 

 

 

Epic Fail

Epic Fail

Copyright Writing Wahine, Living off Island 2017.

Before I start a project, I try to think through all the objectives and all the hurdles. When I’m confident I’ve come up with the best way to get it done, I begin. Needless to say, I don’t expect surprises, and I’m not happy when things don’t go as planned. Type A? Controlling? Tell me something I don’t know. I think I’m getting better, though.

While we were vacationing in Kaua’i last summer, I decided we needed a good family photo, the kind we might use for a Christmas card if I got around to getting one done. I rallied my troops outside so the Pacific Ocean could be our backdrop.

It was a beautiful, sunny day. The ocean breeze kept us from getting hot. We squished together in various poses while the person with the longest arms held my iPhone in front of us, above us, at any angle that would get us all in the frame. We squinted. We brushed the hair off our faces. Passersby distracted my kids and, although they weren’t teenagers anymore, I knew they were embarrassed to be doing something not cool with their parents. My husband got impatient. We all got frustrated. It was a disaster.

When I started laughing so hard that I couldn’t compose myself for one more shot, I ended our suffering and pulled the plug on my project. The Christmas card photo in July was an epic fail and my favorite memory of that vacation. I kept a few of the bad, endearing photos as a sweet reminder to embrace foiled plans for all the learning and laughter they bring.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

 

Lucky Girl

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Lucky (Copyright Writing Wahine, Living off Island 2017)

 

Lucky was a strawberry blonde Cocker Spaniel. I bestowed upon her the title, “The Sweetest Thing God Ever Made.” She made me a believer in all the incredible, corny pet stories that people tell.

When my son was about eight years old, he wore me down asking for a dog, so one day during summer vacation, I took my son and daughter to a city animal shelter.

Lucky was in a pen with several other dogs that were dominated by an alpha female that would not let the dogs approach the gate to meet humans. A shelter worker brought Lucky out to meet with us at a grassy area of the shelter. He told me Lucky was two or three years old. Her recent adoption by a family with young children failed. Her spotted tongue and coloring might make Lucky part Chow Chow.

Shell-shocked by the circumstances that led to her stays at the shelter and by the aggressive barking of the alpha female in her pen, Lucky was friendly but subdued in her interaction with us. We went home, I talked to my husband about Lucky that evening, and the kids and I went back to the shelter the next day.

Lucky was still timid, but her sweetness won us over. As I was filling out adoption paperwork, a gentleman in a postal service uniform came to check on Lucky. I learned that he was also interested in adopting her. The disappointed look on the man’s face touched me, but I was glad the kids and I had come back that day.

Over the course of the next nine years, Lucky blossomed into a tomboy older sibling to my kids. She wasn’t a cuddler. She liked her space. She slept with her legs in the air like a dead bug. She was afraid of the ocean – I think it was the noisy waves moving toward her. She liked to herd us and watch us from a short distance. Unlike our current Cocker Spaniel, Lucky didn’t like swimming or playing fetch. Also unlike our current Cocker, she loved snow, navigating snowdrifts by hopping, sinking, and launching herself back out only to sink into another spot. She liked digging shallow holes in the dirt under shrubs and lying there when it was hot. Most of all, she loved to roll over on her back and ask for belly rubs.

In early 2012, we took Lucky to the vet because she had a persistent cough. Lucky’s vet noticed a heart murmur and ran tests. Then came the diagnosis that made my knees buckle: Lucky had congestive heart failure and could live a few more months with medication. Our son was in his senior year of high school, but our daughter was away at college, and I wondered if she would get to see Lucky again.

Three months later my daughter came home for my son’s high school graduation and saw Lucky one last time. After a long weekend visit, my daughter took an evening flight back to her summer job. Lucky passed away at dawn the next day. My son, my husband, and I were with her.

I like to think that Lucky needed to herd us one last time before she left us. Seeing us all together, she might have felt that we were safe, and if she needed to leave, we would be okay.

Believing in irrational, sentimental stories about the things that dogs do for their humans isn’t about believing in preposterous things, it’s about believing in love. Pets help us exercise our ability to love and to experience being loved.

So on this day, June 13, 2017, the fifth anniversary of Lucky’s passing, I celebrate The Sweetest Thing God Ever Made. I celebrate Lucky, I celebrate love.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

 

Adult Problems

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Less than two weeks ago, I went back to New York City for my 30th college reunion. I was more interested in reconnecting with my girlfriends than with my college and university, but I was pleasantly surprised by the wave of nostalgia that came over me as I revisited campus and some of my favorite off-campus haunts. This milestone reunion also gave me a chance to look back at a carefree and idealistic version of myself.

One morning as two friends and I were walking the short block from our hotel to the nearest subway station, I glanced to my right and saw a man under a blanket sleeping on the sidewalk up against the side of a building. It was around 11 a.m., the day was well underway, and a food vendor stood at his cart less than twenty feet away from the sleeping man. “How horrible and how nice that no one has checked on this man or shooed him away,” I thought to myself.

On my last subway ride back to my hotel the night before I was scheduled to fly home, a man boarded the train pushing a stroller. He announced that he was visually impaired and was struggling to provide for himself and his son. The toddler in the stroller stared at me, his big round eyes pools of weariness. His little face was dirty, as were his clothes. A tourist sitting across from me handed the man some change and told him, in his Australian accent, to get his son to bed because it was late. The man feebly replied that he was trying to do that.

I’m sure I saw the same types of things when I went to college in New York City back in the 1980’s. Maybe seeing such things made me feel badly for a moment. Now these images won’t leave me. Back then I could hide behind the excuse that I was still a kid and these were adult problems for the adults to worry about. My job was about classes, homework, papers, and exams. It never occurred to me that I would inherit the task of dealing with homelessness, because the grownups would handle it. Thirty-four years after I started college, the issue of homelessness looms over many-most-all big cities in our country; adults have not handled it. There is no shortage of intelligence to harness for solutions, only a shortage of willingness to prioritize solutions and to work together to implement them.

It’s true, school days are to be relished because the grownup world is hard. Adult problems like homelessness, poverty, bigotry, racism, and war seem impossible to fix. I don’t think we’ll fix them until we fix the root of all these problems – adults.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

The Teddy Bear

Teddy Bear

A woman I’ll call Ana was tried for the murder of her 18-month-old son in Sacramento, California. A teddy bear should have been the least of her concerns, but it was always somewhere in the back of her mind.

Ana was the breadwinner of her household. She supported her infant son, the boy’s twin sister, their older sibling, and her boyfriend who was the children’s father. Ana worked in a restaurant in San Francisco where the minimum wage was higher. Because she didn’t own a car, commuting from Sacramento to San Francisco would have entailed a costly, twice-daily, six-hour ordeal involving the Sacramento light rail, a commuter bus, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), and walking. Ana made the difficult decision to sleep on friends’ couches and commute home to Sacramento only when she had days off – two to three times per month.

The coroner determined that when he died, Ana’s infant son had pneumonia, sepsis, and broken ribs that had healed. The infant was also malnourished. Police investigated for almost one year before prosecutors charged Ana and her boyfriend with murder.

After Ana and her boyfriend were arrested, social workers from children’s protective services removed the two remaining children from the home. As often happened with abandoned units, Ana’s apartment became an easy target for break-ins.

At trial, the prosecutor argued that Ana and her boyfriend were negligent in failing to get their son medical care that would have prevented the malnutrition and infection that led to his death. Ana’s attorney presented evidence that Ana saw the baby for only a few days each month, pointing the finger of neglect toward Ana’s boyfriend as the primary caretaker.

There was also testimony from experts that Ana was a battered woman who was not psychologically capable of standing up to her boyfriend’s decisions regarding the care of their children. Like most battered women, Ana had unconsciously recreated her past; her boyfriend was not the first man to abuse her.

Ana and her boyfriend were ultimately acquitted of murder, but her boyfriend was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sent to prison. Ana was released from jail but would not be reunited with her two young children who were now living with a relative in another state.

Weeks later Ana was at a store and saw a man and a woman who were her neighbors at the apartment complex where she lived in Sacramento. She approached them and asked if they recognized her. Not only did they recognize her, they were excited to see her. “We have your bear!” they told her.

What this couple really had was the urn containing the ashes of Ana’s son. Knowing that the urn was inside the teddy bear, the couple had taken it from Ana’s abandoned apartment for safekeeping. These neighbors never visited Ana in jail and never took time off from work to attend her trial, but they managed to perform an important act of kindness that brought someone who had been through hell a needed dose of comfort and happiness.

Long after Ana’s pain, anguish, excitement, and joy have faded, she will need hope to rebuild her life. Whenever Ana looks at her teddy bear, she will think of her son. She will also be reminded that goodness and kindness endured as she went through hell. And she will remember to hope.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

 

 

 

Hungry Boy

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One of the errands my husband and I ran this past weekend was bringing his laptop to the Genius Bar at an Apple Store in one of our local malls. While my husband took his computer in for a software fix, I killed some time shopping and then found a seat at a lounge area of the mall.

While I was scrolling through my phone, someone sat next to me. I looked to my left and saw a teenage boy whose face was still soft with baby fat. His small Tommy Hilfiger cross-body bag hung over his left shoulder and rested at the top of his long, skinny legs. I wondered why he hadn’t taken the seat on the other end of the sofa and left us both with elbowroom in the middle, but I noticed his plastic bag with take-out boxes on the empty seat to his left.

He took a Styrofoam box out of the plastic bag, opened it, and smelled the contents that filled half the box – orange chicken and fried rice. I eat leftovers that have been sitting in my car for hours, so I was impressed by the boy’s careful inspection. “Maybe I should worry more about food poisoning,” I thought to myself.

“I gotta eat,” I heard the boy say to himself, so I decided to let him eat in peace and not strike up a conversation.

When I saw the boy get up, walk to the nearest trash can, and empty the chicken into the trash, I thought the chicken must not have smelled okay, because I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like sweet, fatty, deep-fried orange chicken. He returned to his seat and ate the fried rice. He then took the second Styrofoam box out of his plastic bag, opened it, smelled the food, and ate the contents.

When he was finished, he took both boxes and the plastic bag to the trash can and disposed of them.

He then began to rummage through the trash can for beverage cups. He took lids off, sniffed, sipped, and decided what he liked and what he didn’t. He fished out a small empty cup, filled it with liquid from a bigger cup, and walked away with his drink of choice.

My eyes followed him as my brain scrambled to understand what I just saw.

The boy’s careful inspection of food suddenly made sense. He wasn’t smelling his own leftovers; he was smelling – and then eating – other people’s trash.

The boy was clean, well groomed, and decently dressed. He looked like any other teenager hanging out at the mall on a Saturday afternoon.

When the boy said, “I gotta eat,” he wasn’t speaking of his hunger. He was psyching up to eat trash.

I looked up at two surveillance cameras that must have captured what this young man just did, as if to ask some security employee watching a wall of monitors in a room somewhere in the mall, “Do you see this regularly? Is this not a big deal? Do you ignore him as long as he doesn’t make a big mess or bother people?”

If you’re like me, you live with the common misconception that the majority of hungry people in our communities are homeless and mentally ill. As I’ve learned since watching this hungry teenage boy eat and drink out of trash cans at a mall, the majority of hungry people are families who need assistance with food so they can afford rent and utilities. Some of these families are headed by adults with jobs. Some are headed by primary-caregiver grandparents whose fixed incomes don’t even cover the cost of their medications.

Unlike homeless and mentally ill people, hungry people aren’t as easy to spot. They don’t stand out. They hide in plain sight by blending in and looking like they’re doing fine. They look like teenagers hanging out at the mall, like children walking to school, like productive members of society doing their jobs, like elderly people picking up their prescription medications at the drug store, and like disabled veterans who appear capable of taking care of themselves.

These are the people we don’t see when they’re standing in line at food banks. These are the people we still think of as the lower end of the middle class. These are the working poor whose incomes don’t leave enough for food after they pay for rent, utilities, medical costs, and other expenses like gasoline, bus fare, diapers, and baby formula.

The hungry boy at the mall never said one word to me, but my glimpse into his life spoke volumes.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.