Tag Archives: hope

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.


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.




My Favorite Christmas Gift


My son is a member of “Generation Y.” I think Gen Y is a subset of the generation called “Millennial.” Based on my cursory Internet research (one website), I missed being lumped into “Generation X” by one year. I say this to excuse myself from being precise about generation classification – I’m not expected to be tech savvy.

I’ve heard a lot of trash talk about Gen Y, namely that they’re entitled and narcissistic. I’ll admit that I’ve seen these traits displayed by kids of my son’s generation. I’ve sometimes thought to myself that if these kids are our future, maybe we should worry. I’ve never thought of my son as lazy and self-absorbed – he’s a 4.0 college senior who has worked through college and is headed to law school – but he recently did something that gave me hope for Gen Y, because I believe there must be others like him in his maligned generation.

My son attends college in an urban location. To avoid the hassle and expense of driving, he walks or rides his bike to get to classes and to his job. While walking in the vicinity of his campus one day, he was approached by several homeless individuals. Instead of feeling annoyed, he felt badly that he could offer them nothing.

The next day he bought bottled water, socks, kits of tuna salad and crackers, cups of applesauce, boxes of raisins, granola bars, cups of pudding, wet wipes, and two-gallon-size clear plastic bags. He assembled gift bags to give away. He didn’t want to have nothing for the next person who asked him for help.

When he went back to the area where he had encountered the homeless people, he was astonished to find that they were all gone. I told him the police had probably done a sweep of the area and driven them all away. He went back a few times, but they hadn’t returned. The police must have swept thoroughly, because there were no homeless people to be found in the vicinity of my son’s campus. The gift bags remain in my son’s car, ever ready to be given to anyone who asks.

While my son was home for Christmas, I found a few of the gift bags in the back seat of my car, and he told me why he had assembled them. We ran errands together that day, and we saw a man holding a sign saying that he was a veteran who wanted help. My son let me give one of his gift bags to this man. The man seemed truly touched and asked God to bless us.

As I write this story, shedding the tears I held back while my son was home, I wish my son could know that my favorite gift from him this Christmas wasn’t the one he placed under our tree.


© Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

Hā: The Breath of Life

Little Brother,

Your passing marked the beginning of a years-long period of significant losses and changes in my life. I couldn’t recover from one blow before the next one came. For a long time, I was merely going through the motions of living, just treading water, hoping to catch my breath. Adrift, praying for the losses to end, I let the current of grace carry me back to shore.

Now that the hurting and endless crying have subsided, memories that once brought me to tears can make me smile. I reach back in time to hear the faint sound of your voice greeting me and your laugh teasing me. I stare at your picture to see past your face and recall your expressions and mannerisms.

But memories can’t fill the gaping hole of my loss. I can only build my life around it, layering moments, months, and years into mountains that reach toward heaven. Still, even in my happiest moments, I can gaze downward and see the gaping hole in the valley below.

You inspire me to chase my dreams, to welcome my mistakes, to face my fears, and to jump across chasms on the wings of faith. Your example guides me to live with laughter, courage, patience, and selflessness.

Although you lived away from the land of your birth, you embodied Aloha – the presence of breath. The breath of life, its essence being love, was the gift you brought and shared.

So today, January 14th, I celebrate the day you arrived in my life as my baby brother. There will be no singing, no party hats, no birthday cake, nor candles. But I will make a wish.

May Divine Peace remove all the pain that found you in this world. May your soul travel in Light. And wherever your journey takes you, may you feel my love.

Fly with God’s angels, but never leave my heart,


©Living off Island, writingwahine, 2015.