Don’t get me wrong. We are grateful for the loud, echoing voices of genuine friendship and loving support we’re hearing from across that big continent. They say: “I can imagine the joy you’re feeling, home on your beloved Islands.” And from those from within our tiny Island: “I’ve missed you. Welcome home!” I fear my response might be too ambivalent for their loving expectations.
It’s been a full month since we set foot again – ten days shy of one year away – on our Hawai’i. I feel the pressing necessity to record the fresh rush of feelings.
In the first week we hid out in the comfortable home of dear friends who were away on business. We stepped outside, tentatively, to meet selected folk and were taken by surprise at the outpouring of gratitude for our journey. In the second week I renewed my suntan. We pitched a tent under the blazing tropical sun at the beach park where we lived for many of those ten years of grooming. It’s where we lived among the Native Hawaiian homeless and the residual behaviors of almost 150 years of legislated cultural oppression.
Before the birth of the Return Voyage journey – before we left the Islands to speak – we lived that oppression. We lived without home, food, or any predictable source of income. We were required to live alternative behaviors to that which surrounded us. We were required to live our faith, our deep connection to the ancestors’ knowing, and to the land.
On our second week back, the beach park awakened in me all that ‘Iokepa and I had lived then – all that we had surrendered. Week Two stirred deep remembered emotions. I spent five hours one morning, alone, in silent tears.
The pain of those early years (easy now to transmute into narrative) seared my heart. I looked around and felt the horror of families crowded into canvas shelter, trying to prepare children for school under an exposed public shower, without use of even the single broken toilet.
I was confronted fully with my then-required personal surrender: the loss of my family’s cherished home, my 30-year collection of revered books, the kitchen where I’d entertained lavishly, the computer where I wrote daily, and of the identities I savored: devoted mother, author, workshop teacher, daughter, and friend – all history!
But after I remembered the searing pain and the heartbreak – witnessed and lived fully – something else emerged. It was gratitude.
I told ‘Iokepa. “We are, at this moment (after a year absent), gifted with clarity. Our senses are sharpened – sight and smell, sound and touch – by the year spent elsewhere. This is a sacred time.”
In our third week, we pitched our tent on the side of the mountain (cool at night, bright with stars). On that mountain we had incredible birdsong for conversation, momentarily shifting clouds for companionship, and a growing to near-full moon. In the splendor and renewed silence of the mountain (cell phones couldn’t reach us, email was non-existent), I sifted the conflicting emotions that poured through my alert senses and complicated memories.
Now it is Week Four. We are living in the guest cottage on the breathtakingly fertile five acres of a friend who is away on vacation in France. Every morning we pick papayas, oranges, bananas, starfruit, grapefruit, and we eat all this freshness in a bowl or in a blended smoothie. In the afternoon we pick avocados and snack on guacamole. In the evening we gather our lettuce and kale and spring onions from the garden, and collect a few eggs from those fat and sassy Rhode Island Reds.
Every few minutes I lay down the book I’m reading (Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama), and I stroll these incredible orchid-filled acres. Today, I’m writing once again.
Over these four weeks, the question has remained the same: What is it that I mean by home? Why can’t I satisfy our friends and write simply and with pure reverie about the glories of being home? Today, the answers emerge. In the early morning I walked these acres (knowing that today was the day I would begin to write my thoughts). I prayed, as I do, before I sit down and put words on the page: “Ke ‘I’oakua - God Almighty - ancestors of this land, give me the words.”
This is what I heard.
These trees I walk among, the ocean I swim in, the sky I study, the fruit I eat – they are my real home, but only in this moment. That magnificent Lake Superior last January was my home – at that moment – and the Mississippi delta in Louisiana, one month later. The alligator babies with the anhinga perched above them in the Everglades were home last February. The piercing gorge of the Grand Canyon was my home last March. The foothills of Eastern Missouri, rife with red-bud, my home last April.
Home is, of necessity, momentary, fleeting. But always, it lies in our fundamental connection to the natural world. So home demands awareness. Home doesn’t gift itself without our conscious choice to notice it – to know it. We mistake all the wonderful people in our lives for home. Where they live, we call home.
I am told that they – our loving mothers, our at-odds teenage sons, our present or absent husbands, our friends who we-can-call-in-the-middle-of-the-night – are the powerful human community who give us comfort (or not). But these relationships are never our source. They are at times comforting, at times the opposite. The human community (and our varied relationships within it) is where our hearts and souls are challenged to grow into our truest selves, where we become deepening shades of the heart and soul of our Creator.
But it is, and always will be, the natural world where we find home. We will find it only in that moment when we stand still among the trees or on a riverbank, at the edge of a cliff or near a pod of dolphins.
So, every moment of this year with ‘Iokepa – in the desert of Albuquerque and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, on the Atlantic coast of Delaware and Central Park in the heart of Manhattan – I was most certainly home.
And yes, here within this culture that we speak about so lovingly, on the land that is filled with my husband’s ancestors’ bones, I am brimming with joy and comfort and gratitude to be home.