We are walking through interesting times, we humans. The world is going through a time of rapid change on a scope that is a mind-boggle.
It’s all coming at us at a furious pace as we try to get some kind of handle on it.
When our only effective weapons of defense are washing our hands with soap and water, avoiding sneezing and coughing at each other, and stepping far away from one another as the complex constructs we’ve built for ourselves come to a screeching halt and our dreams evaporate, we do get the idea that it’s gotten all whack-a-doodle.
Local pidgin calls it the “hemajang,” all discordant and in disarray, jarring us with strident ambivalence and the worry engendered by the clashing doubts and fears banging around inside our heads as we try to keep the rising panic at bay.
Be calm, we are told. We cannot make good decisions and life-moves in the middle of a full-blown panic attack.
The story continues, we are reminded, and the challenge now is finding ways to center ourselves up so we do not add to the dissonance running wild.
Trying to be mindful of one another and kind during all of this turmoil is the other challenge we are being called to address.
LOOKING FOR THE BEST STORY
As a property manager, it is one of my kuleana, responsibilities, to try to give the owners of the properties in my care updated reports of the situation here as it unfolds.
Many of them live in other places on the planet and are facing the same kinds of challenges which are as severely limiting.
As I answer their questions and concerns, I am working on cobbling together a story that will give them some idea of how things are going here and what we are doing in the place where many of them have chosen to build good memories and dreams.
I do try to put the best face on it that I can. I figure there’s enough negativity and pessimism to go around already.
I am also working my way toward finding new and creative solutions to the problems my tenants are encountering during this time. Many have seen their jobs declared “non-essential” (or even non-existent).
They are either trying to maintain some facsimile of their former productivity while waiting for better times, or are now unemployed and trying to do that scrabbling hard-rub scramble without leaving the house.
The ones with “essential” jobs are often over-worked and have a hard time seeing straight.
They, too, need a story they can hold on to, one that helps them light a candle against the overwhelming darkness that threatens to engulf us.
It’s how we humans go on, I say. The very best of what we can do for one another is to remind ourselves that as long as there is life, together we can find the strength we need to keep on going.
Anyway, here’s the story I’ve come up with so far….
HOW MY STORY’S SHAPING UP
When two-thirds of the people on an island are transients and visitors and, all of a sudden, they all go away or they stop coming, things get really, really quiet we are finding.
Old-timers tell each other, “Wow. It’s kinda like Before, when it was REALLY boring!”
Nobody gets stuck in traffic and there are few heavy-duty traffic-related tussles any more. There is time now to graciously let the other guy pull out in front of you into the much-smaller stream of cars on the roads.
Soon, I bet, there may be friends passing each other in their cars or trucks on some quiet side-road and stopping in the road for a few minutes to catch up with each other, “talking story” out of their open windows.
The lines in front of the doors at the entrances of the banks and grocery and hardware stores are long as people practice “social distancing,” but these folks have time to “talk story” now.
Old friends can natter on and catch up on each other’s lives. The pace has certainly slowed down considerably.
I have made a game of collecting “virtual hug” gestures as I endure the lines. Sometimes I can get some of the people in line to play along. Some of the gestures are pretty cool.
The folks who raise a fuss about how others are breaking the virus-protocol “rules” of the day often cause eye-rollings and heavy sighs, but they are tolerated. Maybe they’re having a really hard day.
Many of the distractions that kept us running around madly from one meeting to another or putting together or attending some festival or fundraiser or sports event or workshop or some choice other than spending a quiet time at home have been cancelled.
The Makers and Creatives for whom these events were linchpin venues for selling their wares and their works are left with nowhere to go and (if they are prolific sorts) they have a pile of inventory that languishes and performances that have died a-borning.
Some of them are trying to figure out how to use that Internet thing to share their works with new prospective buyers. The learning curve may be steep, but it is likely to prove interesting during the down-time.
Parks and beaches and other access to the natural world that are controlled by the Feds and the state and the county governments are no longer open. We are forced back onto our own resources as we look for ways to get our fix of wind and wave and loveliness.
For many, it comes down to taking a walk around the neighborhood, either alone or with some cherished companion, child, or pet.
I had to smile when I saw one young girl walking along a neighborhood sidewalk, talking to a friend on her cellphone as her arms and hands waved all around her emphatically. It was just so Makawao!
Maybe, soon, there will be horses and their riders again, making their way through the countryside on the roads that have seen a great reduction in the number of vehicles tooling around.
The food places that remain open are ones that are supported by local traffic. One enterprising local fast food place has even revived the old drive-in paradigm, having their servers run out to the cars in the parking lot bearing orders of boxed meals. They are doing well.
A couple of distilleries and a number of volunteer seamstresses have, respectively, made a project of making hand-sanitizers or masks for others in need.
Many regular people have found ways to help their elderly neighbors during these times, doing shopping trips for them or helping to liven up their days with an ersatz version of Meals on Wheels.
Neighbors are noticing each other again.
A local grocery store collaborated with their produce suppliers, County officials and others to put together a free-food giveaway in the parking lot of one community facility.
For the give-away a neighbor who had an over-abundance of avocados showed up with her harvest to add to the piles of pre-bagged food.
These folks tell us, “We give when we can.” It is another graceful reminder of our island way of life.
Some of us are taking the time to rethink our life-strategies, looking at what we’ve done and how, perhaps, we can refine it down to the things that are effective for us and important to us.
Some of us have begun taking steps to help facilitate those changes, most of which center around things like strengthening important relationships in our lives and rethinking past choices that really have not been working out well.
HISTORY SHOWS THAT CHANGE IS REALLY THE ONLY CONSTANT
I tell my property owners that I think that maybe local people are a pretty flexible bunch. We have always been used to making do, lending a helping hand, doing what we can, sharing what we have. These are our strengths in this anxious time.
And the real is, for us, the times have always been disquieting. We are not unfamiliar with hard times and for us who had ancestors living in the world before all those sailing ships came ‘round, change has never stopped happening.
As a grandchild of immigrants I remember the stories of the old ones who left their old home-countries for a better life in a new place. Hard as it was for them, it was still better than what they had left behind.
As a grandchild of the ones who had always been here, I remember the stories about how these immigrants were welcomed and enfolded by their new neighbors into the fabric of island life.
The legacy they left to me was the one about learning from each other and finding ways to work together.
The Light of My Life came to the island more than fifty years ago and has used this place as his home base though all the years of world travel and scratching his very itchy feet and even more itchy curiosity bump.
He says that when he drives through the places where the old plantation villages are now just names on some old map, it’s like he is driving through “ghost” towns.
He can see the old places – now only marked by a line of trees along some old cane field road or by an old landmark that no longer means anything to the current inhabitants of the place — where his old friends and neighbors once lived and worked and played.
It’s like the older living places shimmer behind the more modern structures that have taken their places. They don’t go away, those old places. They are still there in his mind’s eye.
Behind them the places where the ancients lived are also still there. Others, perhaps more sensitive than he, might be able to glimpse them as well.
It really doesn’t matter whether they do or not. The places remain still, a testament to the resiliency and the sheer perseverance of us humans.
One of my heart-people is an older woman who belongs to the generation born during the first decades of the 20th century. Hers was the first generation not born in the Kingdom of Hawaii (or in the several island chiefdoms that preceded that Kingdom.)
Her generation was among the people living in the American Territory of Hawaii, which was created in 1900.
Their great-grandparents remembered that King David Kalakaua (1874 to 1891) admonished them: “Remember who you are. Be gracious, but never forget from whence you came, for this is where your heart is. This is the cradle of life.”
It reminds me of a quote from a kumu hula, a dance instructor, Olana Kaipo Ai, who said, “Aloha is the intelligence with which we meet life.”
For people new to the island, and for the ones prone to dwelling on possible catastrophes, the changing paradigms and the unmasking of our variously held delusions can be truly upsetting. Their reactions do vary widely.
“Social distancing” is problematic then. There’s no way to hug them back to themselves, to let them feel deep in their na’au, gut, that they are seen and they matter. Auwe!
LIVING IN THE REAL OLD-STYLE
Back in the 1970s the Queen Lili’uokalani Trust asked our beloved elder, the late Mary Kawena Puku’i, who was a repository for much of the old wisdoms and mindsets that were a part of the cultural legacy of Hawaiians, to work with the agency’s psychiatric consultant, E. W. Haertig, MD.
Their mission was to produce a work that attempted to bridge the gap between Western ways and native ways of thinking and walking that promoted health and a sense of well-being.
They were helped in this by Haertig’s wife Marian who was also a psychological consultant. Marian died before the work could be completed.
Writer Catherine A. Lee undertook the task of culling out and condensing the massive pile of notes, and adding more clarifying material as well.
The first volume has been through at least five printings; the second has been reprinted twice.
Both books are treasured resources for anyone who wants to understand more about Hawaiian mindsets and have been used to help clients of the agency who have a hard time integrating the old ways with the new ones.
In one of the entries in their first book, Puku’i and her team explore the concept of kūkulu kumuhana, the almost-instinctive collective pooling of strengths – material, emotional, psychological and spiritual – for a shared purpose that is a very real part of being Hawaiian.
According to them, it is a group dynamic that’s directed toward a positive goal. A unified and unifying force that is constructive and helpful, its elements include solidarity, mutual concern, sincerity, sensitivity, and a ready responsiveness to others’ feelings.
It is countered and blocked, they say, by selfishness, by boredom and calculated indifference or emotional coldness, and disagreement with the group’s needs or purposes.
Moves that are self-aggrandizing are particularly frowned upon. Pettiness and a lack of generosity are seen as counterproductive and condemned.
When the emotional and spiritual efforts in a common cause are successfully fused together, it is understood that our human will to live will counterbalance the equally human exhausted desire to just give up against odds that seem overwhelming enough to trigger echoes of the abyss that calls up a wish to die.
For Hawaiians (and I suppose for every other human), it is the knowledge that one is loved and wanted and being urged to live on despite whatever is happening that can swing the always-delicate balance over to a vote for life.
We do need that now, all of us.
MATHEW PAINTS A PRAYER
The Light of My Life is an artist. For the past couple of weeks, starting a short time after the beginning of the island “stay-at-home, work-at-home” response to the pandemic, he has been working on a painting.
Mathew rarely paints. He usually fashions extraordinarily complex landscapes using fibrous plant materials that he grows and gathers and dries before folding them into bas-relief depictions of mountains, valleys, streams, waterfalls, and sea shores that provide, others tell me, a gateway into a mind-place of peaceful contemplation.
(He mostly sells his work at the Hana Coast Gallery.)
It seems, however, that whenever there is some crisis or turmoil in our world, Mathew feels moved to pick up his pencil. He begins sketching out a design that becomes an evocation of some animal that very often happens to be a guardian-spirit out of Hawaiian legend.
His focus when he is doing this is intense and very sharp as he strives to get the lines just right.
It remains one-pointed as he transfers the lines onto the handmade amate bark paper that he favors for these things and then picks up his brushes to color in the drawings.
Until he is finished with the work, he maintains this laser-sharp pointedness.
He often paints birds during these sessions, but they are never Audubon-style renditions. Instead, each one is a rendering of what our human hearts hope will respond to our call for help.
Several times, in the past years, the guy has done this. He is self-taught, an autodidact to the max. That doesn’t seem to matter.
The result is always a painting that somehow echoes those of the American Indian artists from his native Pacific Northwest, and yet they are not exactly of that tradition either.
Other people who have seen them feel comforted and uplifted by them. I’d like to share the one he did for this crazy-making time with you.
The bird in this painting is a Hawaiian short-eared owl – a pue’o.
The pue’o, according to Puku’i, is a message of warning and guidance in the most literal sense.
She says, “Its appearance tells you to turn back or to take a safe route instead of a dangerous one, to go where help lies.”
The pue’o is one of the oldest known Hawaiian guardian spirits. In the mid-1800s Isaac Kihe, a kahuna, priest, from North Kona said Pue’o was “the most famous of all ‘aumākua to help.”
In early legends, the goddess Hina, mother of the kupua hero Maui, bore another child in the form of the pue’o. When Maui was taken prisoner and held for sacrifice, his brother owl rescued him and led him to safety.
Other legends say that the great god Kāne, a Hawaiian symbol of life and nature whose kuleana include fresh water, sunlight, growth and sustenance, often took the form of an owl to shield and to protect his people.
Pue’o hid prisoners, freed fugitives, and led whole armies to safety. Warriors watched the owl’s flight for signs of a warning and for indications of a safe passage.
There are many historic accounts of indispensable aid given to worshippers, including early stories of the mighty owl rescuing lost souls on the plain from the dark reality of Pō, the underworld, bringing them back to their bodies and to life.
The great eyes of the bird watched over the peace of families, guiding them in times of trouble, and comforting them in grief. Relaying messages from the spirit world, Pue’o connected the past and the future.
When I think of the paradigm shifts and the multiplicities of ramifications and the scary possibilities of the end-times scenarios inherent in this thing they are calling a response to a pandemic, my resultant thoughts have the power to affect me to my bones.
I shiver; I quake. I can get paralyzed by the fear of it all.
When I list the strengths of our island peoples, and I ponder how we can choose to walk and the skillful means and heartful moves that are inherent in our way of being here together, and when I remember that we really are not alone in this old world of ours, my bones begin to settle back down. They rest easier.
And then there’s this thing: another sign of the times….
Eh, wow! I tellin’ you, you gotta laugh!
Here’s a poem:
KUNG FLU THOUGHTS
Does it seem to you
(As it does to me)
That this kung flu thing
Is a message from the Universe?
This is not just more
Of my woo-woo drivel.
Many of us in the human horde
Have been sent to our rooms.
We have been told most firmly,
“Now, you stay in there….
Think on what you’re doing,
Ponder what you’ve done.”
And the consequences of not-thinking
Are no less dire than they have ever been.
They’re just in our faces more.
Then there are those ones deemed “essential”
By the powers-that-be.
For them the world has turned
Into a cosmic grindstone –
Spinning, spinning, spinning –
Honing them down
Into perpetual motion machines.
Their Busy has gone into quantum overdrive
But they are giving it their best effort,
And, for them, there is no time to think at all, at all.