‘Iokepa and I lived on Hawaiian public beaches for years. We slept on the reclining seats of a seriously aging 1991 Camry when there wasn’t gas enough to get us to the tent. Picnic tables were our dining room furniture; outside showers were our bathtubs; filthy public toilets were our dressing rooms and more.
For two of those years, our youngest son, then fourteen to sixteen, lived in the tent next door or on the back seat of the “Hotel Camry.” He did his homework on our “dining table,” took his showers before dawn, lived on peanut butter and jelly, and hitchhiked to school.
Ours was, and continues to be, a life of surrender. Both ‘Iokepa and I (in quite different ways) left lives of hard work, generous recompense, and comfort.
As a result, we now know that when our hands are emptied, they will be refilled; when our spirit is drained, it will be replenished. Often ‘Iokepa has said on our speaking tours across the U.S: ‘We lived this, so you don’t have to. We lived this so we could speak to you now.’
In those sandy parks among impoverished Native Hawaiian families, I learned things I’d never have learned in my big glass house built into the side of the mountain in Portland. I experienced life as I never could have experienced it surrounded by the abundance of my oriental rugs, my fine art, my finer library, and my view of the city lights below.
What I learned looked something like this. When ‘Iokepa and I could afford a large bag of Krusteaz pancake mix, we served the entire park from our small frying pan. When we managed a Costco-size bag of pasta, no one went hungry. When the fisherman in the tent next door had a good day in the ocean, everyone ate fish. When the mango trees were bearing, everyone had mango juice dripping from their chins.
This had nothing to do with “barter,” a word and concept that did not exist among the Hawaiian ancestors. This had only to do with the necessity of community – and the faith that when our hands and our spirit are emptied, they will always be refilled.
When my not-yet-daughter-in-law from Nashville visited our life in the parks, she was literally stricken by the ease of the giving and the receiving. She speaks of it still.
And while very few folks are required to relinquish their material aspirations in order to live out their destiny (it is not asked), every single one of us is required to recognize the necessity of that flow: the giving and the receiving that the Native Hawaiians considered a single motion. All of us give; all of us receive; neither motion is more holy. None of us get to opt out of the circle.
A few weeks ago we spoke at a wondrous gathering in Sarasota, Florida. The tiny bungalow was packed with an energy and excitement that I would have loved to bottle and take with me. Remarkably, it turns out, we actually did.
After ‘Iokepa and I shared our stories in this crowded living room, an engaging woman of our age contributed hers. Patricia bubbled over her eagerness to tell: “Here’s what happened to me!”
That very morning, Patricia had gone out to breakfast. As she settled into her booth at the restaurant, she realized that she’d forgotten her wallet. All she had was her change purse. The waitress approached to take her order, and Patricia said, “I’ll take a moment to order; I have to count my change. I left my wallet at home.”
She figured that she had just enough for a bowl of oatmeal. The waitress returned and said this: “The man at that table offered, ‘Tell her to order whatever she wants. I’ll pay.’”
Patricia’s first response was to refuse. Her second response was, “Why I think I will.” She proceeded to order: “Two eggs over easy, hash browns, bacon, and whole wheat toast.” At the end of the meal she thanked her benefactor and told his wife, “What a wonderful husband you have.”
From where I sat in the living room, I could watch the fire spread across the faces of the thirty-some participants. Patricia’s story ignited something.
That gathering ended – except these things never do. Within an hour of our departure from that tidy bungalow, we got this email from our ebullient Australian host, Peter:
"He said he had just arrived in town that morning after traveling all night; that he had lain down by the water under a tree, and fell asleep. He had all his belongings and wallet with him in a bag. It was stolen while he slept. He’d already been to the Salvation Army and they told him that help would not be available until Monday (this being Saturday). He spoke to the police – and since he was a homeless Black man, they no doubt had some degree of suspicion.
"I asked if he had somewhere to stay, and he said he didn’t mind sleeping outside. His real concern was getting by until Monday with no money, knowing no one.
"Now I had to laugh a little sarcastically at the ancestors, for this was outrageously obvious – in no way subtle – an opportunity for me to live what I got from the gathering. I had a flash of both Inette and ‘Iokepa in that camping park and a resounding “Ah Hah!” echoed through my head.
"My reply to myself was: “Here it is – my chance to give what I got to another. Go for it Pete!”
"Victor still wouldn’t come into the yard, so I told him to wait, I’d be right back. I got a couple bottles of water, three T-shirts, and a pair of pants, and put them into a bag with a $50 bill. I handed it to him. He looked at the bill, obviously thinking, “a $10 bill…maybe $20…” He couldn’t believe it was a fifty. He was prancing around the sidewalk, shaking his head, raising his arms to the sky, saying words like, “Oh my God!”
"Do you get the picture? I suggested that he go out and make someone else as happy as he felt at that moment.
"So your words and intentions, ‘Iokepa and Inette, rippled through me and out into another. Maybe ‘Iokepa’s grandmothers could take a bow. "
It seems that we don’t need to be living without an income on a Hawaiian beach to feel our connection to one another. We don’t need to be sleeping in tents or car seats and eating oranges that fall street-side from trees, to feel the bounty of the universe. Our opportunities are endless.
Patricia’s story. Peter’s story. Write your own. Receive well, with gratitude. Give well, with gratitude for the opportunity. It’s just a single motion.