This is the story of trust, faith, and the powerful support that accrues when we agree to use our unique gifts, our best natures, and take the path ofgreatest good--to fulfill our life's purpose. Every one of us has one. Our task, really, is to find it--and then, fearlessly, to live it. For thirteen years now, 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani has actively reclaimed his aboriginal Hawaiian history, language and culture. He has (at his ancestors' insistence) carried not a scrap of paper that might confuse his native identity with an American one. That has meant, of course, he carries no American driver's license, uses no social security number.
‘Iokepa’s argument has been consistent: “I’m not an American; I am a Hawaiian, in my culture, with my people, on my Island.”
For the "Crime" of being an unlicensed Native Hawaiian, he was summoned recently to a U.S. District Court, and put on trial. In court, defending himself without attorney, 'Iokepa told the judge: “There is law, and there is justice. I am asking for justice.” (You may read the entire back story on this page: "Inside a U.S. Courtroom: A Native Hawaiian Speaks," February 13, 2010.)
The overwhelming consensus of the emails, phone calls, and comments to this site can best be summed: "Justice was served." The act of justice being served meant to many that everyone looked good: 'Iokepa and his people appeared honest, altruistic, and principled. The U.S. Court system, like Solomon, seemed flexible and wise.
'Iokepa and the judge agreed to twenty-one hours of required"Community Service."
'Iokepa told the judge: “My wife and I have done thirteen years of community service. I’ve never taken a paycheck. That is the culture I represent, taking responsibility for all people in all circumstances. This is our walk of faith. And, that will continue whatever happens here today.”
Within those 21 hours of court-mandated "Community Service" 'Iokepa felt the hand of his Grandmothers on his shoulder. He saw this as an, "Opportunity" and he was, "Excited where it might take me."
This is the story of where it took him.
Several days after his court appearance, 'Iokepa was required to report to the man who administers the Community Service arm of the court system.
All U.S. government offices are located in the center of our 70 mile long Island; our post office box is just a few blocks away. They are each an hour's drive from the far-northern edge of the Island, where we have lived these past few months.
Together, 'Iokepa and I drove that hour to the Community Service appointment. It made sense to stop at the Post Office first and check our mail. One letter fell from the P.O. Boxinto 'Iokepa's hand. It had a return address that neither of us recognized.
It turned out to be a note from a stranger who had read 'Iokepa's newspaper interview two months before. She'd been moved (during these intervening months) to send us her kind words, a $33 donation--and her business card. The card described her as a minister, the "Spiritual and Bereavement Care Coordinator" at the Kaua'i Hospice. On the back of the card, she wrote, "If Hospice can be of help in any way..."
We went to the scheduled, "fifteen minute" appointment; it lasted an hour and a half. 'Iokepa's work has always followed him where ever he walked, or where ever he stood. And here, behind this desk, sat a bright, respectful young man, in a unique position to affect so many of the very disaffected men and women on this Island.
Tyrus was exactly the sort of young man who habitually and deeply connects with'Iokepa's cultural message. It would be presumptive of me to wonder which of 'Iokepa's words were most compelling to Tyrus--or whether their shared athletic past (Tyrus, college baseball; 'Iokepa, football and competitive martial arts) was the glue. But I sat, as I do on these occasions, in awe of the apparent bonding.
Clearly, 'Iokepa was not the usual drunk driver, drug dealer, or domestic abuse perpetrator to cross Tyrus' desk. Certainly, Tyrus had heard all the lies--and the man sitting across the desk from him now was not there to deceive to him.
But there remained the matter of community service. "Usually," Tyrus said, "The court wants us to assign some kind of physical service--to make people work their sentence off. Obviously that's not appropriate here. What would you like to do?"
'Iokepa sat silently, waitingas he does for word from the Grandmothers. Tyrus ran through some possibilities: Teach children in a school, work with them in a community center.
'Iokepa was unmoved. And then, he looked down at the envelope in his hand. "What about Hospice?'
Well, the office had never sent anyone to Hospice before, but Tyrus jumped on it. It could be done.
And so, days later, when 'Iokepa phoned the woman who'd dropped us the note, she was beside herself with excitement--and she flew into high gear. In the end it was decided: He would offer a Return Voyage training in Hawaiian culture and spirituality to the Hospice professional staff. On later dates: 'Iokepa would be slotted into already existing panels and seminars on: Cultural Differences Around Death and Dying.
I've never seen 'Iokepa more certain that he was following the Grandmothers' plan (or more motivated to carry it out) than he was in those weeks before his Hospice service. Their "Plan" began for 'Iokepa the day before he was ticketed, with his prayer to, "Move my work forward." It pursued him: Through his trial, toward the note from the good Reverend, tohis appointment with bright-eyed Tyrus--and finally to this Community Service with Kaua'i Hospice.
The trial and its results came exactly one year after 'Iokepa's much-loved mother died. He knew, this was a way to honor her. But he also knew that Hospice hadbeen unable to, "Get a Native Hawaiian to speak to us about the culture's view of death and dying."
That reticence, 'Iokepa told me later, was in part: "Shame..." after 150 yearswhen Native Hawaiian culture was outlawed into oblivion by Calvinist missionaries. And, in part, because: "So many of us don't know..." for exactly the same reason.
This past week, with the Hospice staff gathered to listen, 'Iokepa was inspired--and persuasive. He'd say afterward: "I could hear the Grandmothers." But it was more. These were a remarkable group of humans: People whose lives are dedicated to caring for the incurable; for understanding that life doesn't end at the seeming end--and, in any case, assuring that the last words from this side are compassionate ones.
'Iokepa spoke for his aboriginal culture: "There are two births. The one from our mother's womb intohuman life, and the one from human life into our Creator's arms. There is no death, only birth."
These special people draped a ginger lei around my neck, and a maile leaf lei around 'Iokepa's, by way ofappreciative greeting. They hung onto his every word and seemed transported by his chants. Through 'Iokepa, his Native Hawaiians and their sublimely spirited culture were deeply honored in a place where it will absolutely make a difference.