We have been driving down the road of civil disobedience. The place names flash up at me with the increasing vagueness of an aging memory: Birmingham, Alabama; Meridian and Hattiesburg, Mississippi. For 'Iokepa and me, these are fleeting interstate highway signs--a quick stop for gas or food on our way to Baton Rouge. But they tickle memory, and memory is nothing if not the instructor of this present moment.
"Past is Prologue" sits across the facade of the U.S. National Archives.
So we have, only yesterday, a prominent theologian who denied the German Holocaust happened. (Six million of my people's aborted lives speak otherwise.) We have couples divorcing on the brink of their 25th anniversary saying, "I never loved you." (Denying their glorious days hitchhiking around Europe, or the moment of their child's birth, or their candlelit anniversaries.)
We forget. And when we forget, we can not learn.
Human beings (and governments freely-elected by human beings) make mistakes. We learn more from President Obama's, "I screwed up" than by his choice of Senator Tom Daschle for a Cabinet post.
'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani said this about forgiveness: "It is meaningless to forgive or ask forgiveness, if we don't know what we're asking forgiveness for." When a policeman on Kaua'i slapped handcuffs on 'Iokepa simply because he was a visible, proud, Native Hawaiian and, in the same breath, the officer said: "I'm sorry," 'Iokepa responded, "Don't say that to me - it's an incorrect use of the word."
The words, "Civil Rights," have taken over these years such a specific meaning that, I believe, we've lost the larger one. We have treated in the past - and continue to treat one another in the present - with the greatest absence of civility. That has got to change. If our new president speaks to our hearts around one single common denominator - Republican or Democrat, atheist or believer - it is this: we must learn to treat one another with civility.
An attorney friend from Louisville, Kentucky used to say: "You do not have to like me. You do not have to agree with me. But there is no excuse to abandon good manners."
Return Voyage travels the map of our uncivil history. The Trail of Tears: We slaughtered the very folks who fed us Thanksgiving dinner. Indentured Slavery: The economic and labor needs of large plantation owners trumped Thomas Jefferson's idealistic rhetoric. Return Voyage adds the grievances of the kanaka maoli , the native Hawaiians, to that list: an independent nation taken at gunpoint to feed the greed of sugar cane baron - against the powerful objection of the native people.
I was not alive when the Hawaiian nation was colonized by foreign occupation. I was not alive when the Native Americans were forced to abandon their lands by a brutal militia. I was not alive when shiploads of Africans were stolen from their homeland and planted in this one. I can accurately say, I bear no responsibility for any of these injustices.
I even have bragging rights that we've recently elected an African American president.
But if I close my eyes or my memory to all that led to now - I've learned nothing. I am doomed to repeat these and other gross acts of incivility. And, in fact, the kanaka maoli , and the Native American, and the African American are locked still into heartbreaking cultural impoverishment. We removed from each of these peoples many things, but none more grievous than the memory of their cultural wisdom.
But it is we (neither native, nor descendant of slaves) who have lost the most. We've lost the memory of the mistakes. Hence, we've lost the ability to make them right. And we've lost the human necessity of civil dialogue. That is the change we herald.