You can wrap your hands around the neck of another person, choke off her breath or pin her body to the earth for only so long, before all that that resides within her strains and then struggles to reclaim life. It’s not a moment for compromise.
Oh my, what the Native Hawaiian protectors on their sacred Mauna Kea have woke.
I live on Kaua’i. For ten years that meant literally sleeping inside a tent snug up against Kaheka - the Salt Pans, where (when the rains stop) the pa’akai – salt – has been harvested by these same indigenous families for thousands of years. Harvested in a manner, by the mo’opuna – grandchildren - that carry this service to their people in their bloodlines. And it is a service, a holy practice, not a business.
My mother lived to be 101; my father to 91. Both made aging look good. And maybe my brothers and I inherited their genes; maybe not. But as a family, we are collectively healthy and if we choose, we can ignore the reality of aging.
So yes, I’ve lived the Baby Boom experience in full. I danced at iconic outdoor concerts to the Grateful Dead. I was a war correspondent in Vietnam. I embraced the re-birth of feminism. I still mightily resist every single new technology, and depend fully on my adult sons to walk me through. In sum, I am not unaware that there are multiple named-generations after my own.
But absolute nothing tells me more starkly that I have lived a fairly long life than this. Tourism.
Dear President Trump,
I am a proud daughter of Baltimore – born, reared, and educated. Each of my immigrant grandparents arrived by ship and settled. My parents built a business, a home and a family there. I trace their roots to East Baltimore; my own to West. Always, the city – never the suburbs. Congressman Elijah Cummings would have been my representative.
It isn’t just the largest telescope in the world on top of the earth’s tallest mountain – that false dichotomy between the scientific versus the sacred. “It’s the remnants of our culture,” a young Native Hawaiian was quoted in the news yesterday. Sobs diluted her rage.
It isn’t just greedy corporate profiteers - and their enabling state governor - feeding the State University’s coffers and pretending it’s for a “higher purpose” than the essential, sustaining sacred. “It’s the remnants of our culture.”
“The mountain is their victory lap,” said elder and cultural practitioner, ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani. This telescope is a brazen icon to their domination - Mauna Kea, the largest mountain in the world.
“Ross Perot, eccentric billionaire who made two independent runs for president, dies at 89” appeared across a Washington Post digital headline – and I am forced into memory. I happen, at the moment, to be thick in that remembering - picking away at a memoir of my fourteen months in Vietnam and Cambodia – so many years ago. I was a war correspondent for Time.
I was very young – just a year past my baccalaureate from Cal Berkeley – when my path fleetingly crossed the cranky, arrogant, difficult Mr. Ross Perot.
I am a life-long writer. Words are my clay, my oils, my musical notes. I truly treasure the massage of syllables in the creation of message. For the past twenty years, the form and focus of those words, paragraphs, stories, and books have been directed at awakening a sleeping world to two things: the sacred and profound wisdom within the ancient Native Hawaiian culture - and the horrifying results of colonial occupation (read. the United States) on that culture and those Native people. That has been my sole intention - my only job.
But this week I confess to the limit of what my words can say - or even more - do. And never has that limitation been so apparent.
This week I encountered the visual artist Daniel Finchum’s newest project, “Bruises in the Garden” - and I am humbled.
Americans have long-savored the notion that within our nation there is a unbridgeable division between church and state. It is a distinction that allowed me, as a child in a public elementary school, to sit silently while my Christian classmates recited the Lord’s Prayer.
In later years the very fact, that Jewish children faced that obvious social pressure to conform, was challenged. No longer were small children forced to disobey their school authority in order to obey a higher power. Our federal courts reminded: school prayer was against the law.
My husband is a Native Hawaiian. ‘Iokepa’s words are quoted in this post’s title. He speaks them with a profound sense of grief - and a barely hidden anger. He struggles with those divergent sentiments. He knows that to speak his mind is to court accusations and dismissal as, “Another angry Hawaiian.” And yes, there is a great deal to be angry about.
But ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani knows that ears close when words are daggers. The last twenty-two years of his life have been about crafting words so that ears remain open, and hearts receptive.
We’ve all read about the infamous Bernie Madoff who defrauded his near-and-dear of $65 billion - often from the charities he “served.” We are aware of the “Nigerian Prince” scammers who invade our email boxes with promises of great wealth.
That happens to others. Not to ‘Iokepa; not to me. We own almost nothing - and yet we have more reasons for gratitude than we can crowd into a day’s prayer. Our work daily delivers chance meeting with amazing strangers; consistently fills us with purpose greater than ourselves. Life is very very good.
The television sitcom, Murphy Brown, starring the smart and outspoken Candice Bergen, returns 20 years later - and I can’t help but reminisce - and laugh in anticipation. Generations of younger folk have no recollection of that first television sitcom - ever - to evoke a knee-jerk (and at that time shockingly, politically incorrect) reaction from the Vice President of the United States of America! Let me remind you - before President Trump, that just did not happen.
In those simpler times, when Presidents or Vice Presidents didn’t demean their office with gratuitous critique of television actors, Vice President Dan Quayle stepped into the seeming triviality of a television show, and found out that it was a quagmire.
We are killing reporters in the very newsroom where I too was once a young reporter. I was twenty-two years old, just months out of college and over-filled with ambition, work ethic, and a genuine sense that I could change the world for the better. I suspect that these - now dead - five journalists inside the newsroom that we once shared at the Capital Gazette, embodied the same. Few end their careers at small town newspapers - many begin them there. Those that remain have a passion for the challenges of local news - in other words, for community.
'Iokepa and I arrived home from our four-month book and speaking tour at the exact moment that the mountain - Kilau'ea - at the heart of the Island of Hawai'i erupted. The frantic (and generous) emails descended immediately after our first night's respite at home.
Initially we assured: we were well and at the other end of the archipelago on Kaua'i; the wind blew the poisonous gases away from our Island; our friends and family on the Island of Hawai'i were unharmed. But the rest of our message struck many as callous.
I've already written the backstory in some detail. What I omitted and plan to address here is the quirkier one - when all material possession had been repeatedly relinquished, what remains? What on this good earth did we value enough to keep?
We receive each offering with gratitude. However when your life's physical bounty (by necessity and choice) fits in the trunk of a medium-sized sedan, and your life is determined by continual surrender...well.
My blog-writing fingers feel rusty. My intense focus in one direction has meant the utter neglect of this other. I don't multi-task at all - not with writing. So stealing energy from this public forum - I've invested it wholehearted in a private (for now) endeavor: a new take on a very old subject - my next book.. Writing projects, like babes in utero, have their moment; they can neither be rushed nor ignored.
Change is inevitable, whether we welcome it - or vigorously oppose it. 'Iokepa and I have attempted for these past twenty years to actively surrender to those forces. We look for guidance, and try not to let our whims impede the larger purposes. It's not always easy. We're human and the temptation to impose our own will is so very...enticing. I smile as I write those words, because I'm reminded of an acquaintance on our most recent tour saying: "I may not always be right, but I am always certain."
I was contemplatively hurling my Pellegrino bottles into the Kaua'i community recycling bin, last week, when I heard my name called. I turned to the open-arm welcome of an acquaintance newly returned from Macchu Picchu. This is a woman, who, I am aware, treasures the living truths of indigenous culture - not far removed from one herself.
She wanted me to understand the hopes she'd invested in her dream journey to the relics of the Inca nation. She told me, she'd hiked the old Inca trail to the mountaintop, eagerly anticipating communion with these ancients. She wanted me to know, too, how horribly she'd been disappointed .
Okay, we get it, many Americans are deeply attached to the nice round number on our national flag - fifty states, fifty stars - and the unchanging thirteen colonial stripes. We celebrate, as the Fiddler on the Roof did, "Tradition!"
But over dinner the other night, some anguished, equally-colonized, indigenous Hawaiians offered a somewhat tongue-in-cheek solution to the flag issue, as a microcosm of their much larger heartbreak.
A funny thing happened on our way home from the Woman's March on Washington last January.'Iokepa and I were stuck shoulder-to-shoulder, buttock-to-buttock within a (genteel) crowd of exhausted Marchers hermetically-sealed inside a disabled Metro car in a subway tunnel underneath the Nation's Capital - for three hours. This after more than 12 hours enthusiastically chanting, marching, waving signs, and generally placing our aging bodies in the Women's Rights column amidst 500,000 other bodies. It was the day after the Presidential Inauguration.
Alright, I concede that a great deal of what I'm about to contemplate can be seen in the light of having lived most of my life in a time when letter-writing was a life-changing art - emotionally wrought and eagerly awaited; telephones were attached to a wall - and refused to accompany us away from home or office; and an overheated car radiator required standing by the side of the highway in the rain waving down help. And so our banks, bookstores, daily necessities were more than an interaction with keyboard or a mouse. These were unavoidable reminders that we are not alone on this planet - and that other humans (disappointing, aggravating, and occasionally comforting human beings) share our world.
Our audiences are diverse: ethnically, economically, geographically - and this year in particular, when these differences are so glaring and stark - politically. Human beings appear to have been reduced to their silk-screened, t-shirt and baseball cap slogans. And so before we began this winter's speaking tour, I worried - a lot. 1. How do we speak words outside of the smothering political rhetoric? 2. Within the current din of fear and anger, would our audiences care about the Native Hawaiian people and their generous but much-oppressed culture?