Dear President Trump,
I am a proud daughter of Baltimore – born, reared, and educated. Each of my immigrant grandparents arrived by ship and settled. My parents built a business, a home and a family there. I trace their roots to East Baltimore; my own to West. Always, the city – never the suburbs. Congressman Elijah Cummings would have been my representative.
“Ross Perot, eccentric billionaire who made two independent runs for president, dies at 89” appeared across a Washington Post digital headline – and I am forced into memory. I happen, at the moment, to be thick in that remembering - picking away at a memoir of my fourteen months in Vietnam and Cambodia – so many years ago. I was a war correspondent for Time.
I was very young – just a year past my baccalaureate from Cal Berkeley – when my path fleetingly crossed the cranky, arrogant, difficult Mr. Ross Perot.
Americans have long-savored the notion that within our nation there is a unbridgeable division between church and state. It is a distinction that allowed me, as a child in a public elementary school, to sit silently while my Christian classmates recited the Lord’s Prayer.
In later years the very fact, that Jewish children faced that obvious social pressure to conform, was challenged. No longer were small children forced to disobey their school authority in order to obey a higher power. Our federal courts reminded: school prayer was against the law.
The television sitcom, Murphy Brown, starring the smart and outspoken Candice Bergen, returns 20 years later - and I can’t help but reminisce - and laugh in anticipation. Generations of younger folk have no recollection of that first television sitcom - ever - to evoke a knee-jerk (and at that time shockingly, politically incorrect) reaction from the Vice President of the United States of America! Let me remind you - before President Trump, that just did not happen.
In those simpler times, when Presidents or Vice Presidents didn’t demean their office with gratuitous critique of television actors, Vice President Dan Quayle stepped into the seeming triviality of a television show, and found out that it was a quagmire.
We are killing reporters in the very newsroom where I too was once a young reporter. I was twenty-two years old, just months out of college and over-filled with ambition, work ethic, and a genuine sense that I could change the world for the better. I suspect that these - now dead - five journalists inside the newsroom that we once shared at the Capital Gazette, embodied the same. Few end their careers at small town newspapers - many begin them there. Those that remain have a passion for the challenges of local news - in other words, for community.
My blog-writing fingers feel rusty. My intense focus in one direction has meant the utter neglect of this other. I don't multi-task at all - not with writing. So stealing energy from this public forum - I've invested it wholehearted in a private (for now) endeavor: a new take on a very old subject - my next book.. Writing projects, like babes in utero, have their moment; they can neither be rushed nor ignored.
Alright, I concede that a great deal of what I'm about to contemplate can be seen in the light of having lived most of my life in a time when letter-writing was a life-changing art - emotionally wrought and eagerly awaited; telephones were attached to a wall - and refused to accompany us away from home or office; and an overheated car radiator required standing by the side of the highway in the rain waving down help. And so our banks, bookstores, daily necessities were more than an interaction with keyboard or a mouse. These were unavoidable reminders that we are not alone on this planet - and that other humans (disappointing, aggravating, and occasionally comforting human beings) share our world.
Okay, so my husband is very carefully non-political. He argues that his people were "never politicians" and when they were drawn, against their nature, into that arena, they were sorely used and abused. That continues still. Instead, 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani's every spoken word is directed at the cultural resurrection of his Native Hawaiian people. His voice is strong; his passion is unquenchable; his work is unending. He does not identify himself in word, deed, or government issued ID, as American. He is a sovereign Native Hawaiian working toward the resurrection of his occupied nation. So obviously he does not vote in American elections.
A version of this post has sat dormant in this computer (actually in its Toshiba predecessor) for seven years. That may be a single record for this writer's patience. And so this story began eight years ago. For all of those years, readers of this website and of our books, and audiences at our speaking engagements across the American continent have discovered that my husband, 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani has somesurprising gifts. We know him to be an inspiring spokesperson for his culture, a crystal-shattering chanter of the ancient Native Hawaiian words, and a serious wielder of a 20-inch chain saw. There is very little that he cannot figure out a way to fix. I assumed that I pretty-much knew the parameters of my husband's talents.
This appears to be, of all things, a story about houses. But appearances can be deceiving. And though I am describing a singular life spent sleeping in tents and car-seats for ten years, and another seven years in other people's beds - this is decidedly not a comparative study of canvas walls or bucket seats versus bricks and mortar. Readers of these posts and of my books, Grandmothers Whisper and The Return Voyage, know a fair amount of the personal history here.
I met 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani at sunrise Christmas morning, 1997. Count them: that was seventeen years ago. Perhaps you read about our first ten years together on the Hawaiian Islands in Grandmothers Whisper. Then we took the Native Hawaiian ancestral wisdom on the highways of America for the first time on September 7, 2007. That was seven years ago. For approximate half of each of those years, we accumulated 95,000 car miles, speaking in homes and churches, bookstores and clubs. Perhaps you've read about those seven years in The Return Voyage.
There is a new member of our family, and all words feel patently ridiculously predictable. "Miraculous" doesn't replicate the adrenaline rush, the heart-thumping anxieties, the feel of that newly exposed-to-our-atmosphere skin. 'Iokepa and I were immutable fixtures just outside the door at the moment ofher birth (and for ten hours before). We were inside that door with baby in arms immediately after. (At the climatic moments I was literally on my knees with my head glued to the door.)
The last three months on the road with The Return Voyage have been snugly scheduled with just a bit of breathing room. Our schedule page tells the story. We've just returned fromour spin through the southeastern states; we're back at our base camp here in the northern Shenandoah Valley. We are now doing something that 'Iokepa and I very seldom do - we are waiting. We do not wait, because indigenous Hawaiians did not wait. Like all tribal peoples, they lived every moment - no, every breath - with absolute awareness that it might be their last. There was only today, this breath. Everything else was illusory; everything future was unknowable. To expect, to wait, was to refuse to live this breath fully.
It is winter on my skin and in my bones. I am bundled from the top of my head to my wool-encased feet. The plunge from eighty degrees to twenty degrees was abrupt and challenging. The first question we've been asked during the past couple weeks in Seattle and Portland, in Baltimore and now in northern Virginia is: "Why are you here in the winter?" We are here in the winter because that is when folks choose to come out of their caves to attend book events, to listen to the itinerant speaker - to invite us to share our story. In the summer and autumn they are traveling and active in other ways.
This is a story that I’ve never before told. I hesitate even now – perhaps twelve years after the fact. My hesitation still hinges on Thanksgiving, for goodness sake. Thanksgiving: uncontaminated by commercialism; serving up my favorite foods; and celebrating gratitude. It’s a hard holiday not to love.
On January 13, 2012, my oldest friend on this earth died. She was the model of modesty, empathy and a hard-work that she consistently made to look easy - in sum, grace.
On May 20, 2012, 'Iokepa and I were crushed in our automobile by ayoung man driving 80 miles an hour in a 40 mile zone - heavily intoxicated and then running on foot away from our destroyed car and my damaged body. When we met this truly nice young man days afterwards - in a jail cell - he touched us deeply with the goodness of himself and his life. We found the divine where we least expected it.
For five autumns now, ‘Iokepa and I have found ourselves strangers in unknown distant cities. Each year we’ve had to unearth a Jewish congregation from the yellow pages, and solicit an invitation to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in their large urban synagogue. Without exception, we’ve been embraced. But it is here in our tiny Kaua’i Jewish Community that we find home. Blessedly, we are home again this year for these most sacred Days of Awe.
Okay, so this is what I remember of the story I’m about to tell: absolutely nothing. It’s a black hole of a story, but it is quite a story nevertheless, as ‘Iokepa slowly reveals it to my still erratic (but getting sharper every day) Swiss cheese of a memory bank. The “Before”
It's a very funny thing about being a writer. I complete a book. I've said everything that I have to say about the matter. Then the book tour begins, and I am expected to say more - much more. And when the questions begin, silence is just not an option: not on radio, not on TV, not in print. Writing the book Grandmothers Whisper was completely in my hands. But my control stopped there. I cannot - will not - pretend to know how any single human heart and mind will respond to their reading of Grandmothers Whisper. I do know that each of us brings our own story to bear on the one we read on the page.
…Every last one us is the son or daughter of a couple of them. So choose your perspective here. I can tell my story from the only perspective I have: the singular daughter of two very specific people; the mother of two very specific sons. But like all writing, the micro or anecdotal only has meaning if it sheds light on the universal.