When 'Iokepa and I completed our ten year preparation--what the Grandmothers called, our grooming, what I call our immersion into the authentic, aboriginal Hawaiian culture - That language, history, and the reality of experience of 'Iokepa's brethren - we were asked to take what we had learned on those tropical beaches to the people of the world, and to begin in the continental United States. That was two years ago. We landed in Seattle; our next stop was Portland. Portland was also the city where I had, for some years, reared two teenage sons, written professionally, and taught writing workshops. It was from my home in Portland that I happened, one impromptu Christmas vacation, to find my way to Hawai'i, and two days later encountered 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani.
So this Return Voyage got its sea legs in Portland - the city I called home for a spell. Now, two years later, The Return Voyage stops here once again. I think, this is a fine time and place to assess the changes, to measure the accomplishments of these 50,000 car miles, these innumerable gatherings of uncountable, but clearly distinguishable people we've met in places from Raymond, Maine to Sedona, Arizona.
We left Hawai'i with the Grandmothers' directives, and very little else. Everything we owned for ten years fit into the trunk of a Camry. This is still true. Now, by necessity, it also includes winter coats, gloves and boots.
We took each step with no sight beyond the canyon of faith that stood in front of us, yet with full certainty that we would not hit bottom. That has not changed; we still do. At that time, we had no idea how the necessary automobile would materialize. This time, we have no idea how our airplane ticket home will. The gas for the tank, our meals, and where we lay our heads is a continuing revelation.
When we speak to those gathered in our Return Voyage living rooms, we speak of only that which we have lived - nothing other.
'Iokepa never reads accounts of other people's spiritual journeys. He refuses to speak from that which he has not lived. I suspect that is the major strength he brings to our Return Voyage gatherings, the authenticity of his experience. You can hear it in his voice, see it in his eyes.
He has said: "Each of us has been placed on earth with a destiny. Each of us has been armed with unique and inimitable gifts to fulfill that life's promise." He has said: "The closer we come to fulfilling that purpose, to utilizing those gifts, to walking that destined path--the easier our lives. When we refuse it, we struggle."
Return Voyage asks each of us to do just that: seize, savor, and use what is uniquely ours - individually and culturally. 'Iokepa has said: "This is inscribed in your DNA. All that your ancestors lived comes down to you - use it." I'd have added: "Gifts from our Creator are sacrosanct; we don't get to say, 'No, thank you'."
Here in Portland we were reminded, in dinner conversation with an eighty year old woman, of yet another piece of this: every breath we've taken, every spill we've endured, every glory day, every year we've notched has been cumulative. It is the definition of a life well-lived.
It is a life where we are able to see clearly - perhaps not at the exact moment when the marriage that we expected to last forever falls apart, or when we've lose our dream job, or when the medical diagnosis looks grim, but inevitably - that each and every stair-step supported the next.
That's the nature of fulfilling promises, walking destined paths. There are few regrets because the whole speaks louder than the sum of its parts - and at some point we get it.
So Huliau - The Return Voyage - this living entity, two full years, 50,000 car miles has now circled back to Portland. I stand at the continental edge, at the Pacific Coast, an hour drive from Portland. I look past the dramatic lava rocks jutting out of the icy ocean at the expansive horizon.
I face west. I face home.
I ask myself, what have we accumulated in these miles, other than four Michelin tires, a replacement suitcase, and a nostalgic 1984, Mondale-Ferraro campaign button?
I know now that the aboriginal Hawaiian message has a truly universal resonance. I could not have imagined from one Return Voyage gathering to the next, the enormous diversity of folks who would be sitting there in front of us.
I know now that there are an enormous number of Americans stranded between the concrete promises of material certainty, and the forgotten nature of our more ephemeral spiritual support.
I know that the many times when I feared The Return Voyage would be stranded without friends or money, I was, without exception, misguided. And when I accepted my ill-defined gut-feelings as gospel, they never led me astray.
I know that I am older than I have ever been, and though I can still dance with the approximate moves I could muster in 1964, I cannot do them for as many hours or with as little physical consequence.
Portland, Oregon stands exactly halfway between the Atlantic Coast of my birth and the Pacific Islands of my life with 'Iokepa and his people. On this Oregon coast I feel acutely the distance from my mother, my brothers and my sons scattered on that Atlantic edge. I feel, too, the undeniable call of my husband's Hawai'i.
In Portland, I straddle those worlds. Neither in one, nor in the other. But undeniably of both. So this circle only brings me home to what I've surrendered - and what I've claimed. And perhaps more than anything I've learned this. We cannot move forward in our lives without both claiming everything that we ever were, everything that we've ever lived, everything we've ever known - and relinquishing that which we no longer need.
No one promised it would be easy.