TOGETHER: THEIR STORY
I was on a ten-day vacation in Hawai’i, when I met this handsome, brown-skinned, powerfully-built man with a head of startling silver hair. It was sunrise Christmas morning at an ancient Hawaiian heiau, or sacred site. I’d been a journalist, author, and writing workshop teacher all of my adult life, a single mother for thirteen years. I lived in Portland, Oregon. I was fifty-one years old.
He’d been a successful businessman – paving freeways, laying waterlines for Seattle and environs.
Ten months before we met he’d had a spiritual epiphany that demanded (in the presence of his long-dead grandmothers) that he relinquish everything he’d worked for all his life (considerable) and reclaim his aboriginal heritage (at that time obscure) – and thus fulfil promises that he made when he took on life: his destiny.
‘Iokepa was to relinquish a life of obsessively hard work and of profound pleasure, of money and travel and expensive toys to assume responsibility for his grievously oppressed and denigrated aboriginal Hawaiian people. Neither he nor I understood the breadth of that responsibility or that surrender.
In two weeks he did just that and returned to his ancestral roots in Hawai’i. He lived there without income, credit card, or identification that claimed other than his Native Hawaiian ancestry. It was to be a walk of faith and the beginning of what his ancestors called, his “ten year grooming.” His lifework was directed toward the fulfillment of a 1000-year-old prophecy that foresaw the resurrection of his aboriginal culture as a beacon to a needy world.
Just ten months after his life-changing epiphany, we met. Six months later, my sons and I left our impressive hilltop home in Portland and moved to Hawai’i. We joined lives with ‘Iokepa.
With no home, we lived on sand beaches in fourteen tents and on twelve air mattresses over the next ten years. Everything we owned fit into the trunk of my increasingly aged Camry and a very small storage closet. We often went hungry. Life had become very simple – and very complex.
We lived among homeless addicts of every ethnicity. We lived as an alternative – with integrity and responsibility – in the manner of ‘Iokepa’s ancestors, the Native Hawaiian people.
Those years were painful – every last one of them. Intellectually I’d always had empathy for the “less fortunate.” It was a different story when I became one of them. It was a different story when all choices based on my superior education and opportunity evaporated. They no longer had relevance. I refuse to idealize those years; but I also refuse to renounce them.
Because of those ten years, I’ve come into my own in these past ten. Not my own as I lived it in Portland, for self and family and friends, but my own in the surrender to purposes greater than a paycheck, and wider than the faces that I already recognize.
Because of those ten years, ‘Iokepa and I have been asked in these last ten, to speak words across the United States that resonate with the truth and wisdom of the aboriginal Hawaiian culture. This was a culture that refused war, violence, hierarchy, and gender segregation for more than 12,000 years. It has at least a few things to teach a 21st-century audience, who seemed to have forgotten how that might be accomplished.