On this past Wednesday morning, I was in a rush to get to work and I had a lot on my mind, worried about the emergency Heart surgery my cardiologist scheduled me for the following morning. As much as I tried not to worry, I kept thinking about the possibility, however remote, that I wouldn't survive the surgery.
I still had to get to work however. We had guests coming for a meeting and I was fortunately part of the welcoming protocol committee. I had just barely memorized my chant, and was practicing in the car as I drove down Beretania Street trying to keep my mind off of the impending surgery. As I looked around, wondering if this would be my last full day on Earth, everything took upon itself a renewed Beauty. The ordinary. The mundane. The streets. Cars. Sidewalks. Pedestrians. Trees. Grass. Sky. Clouds. I was taking it all in almost with the eyes of a newborn. It was surreal. Trying to savor this World.
It wasn't too long before I noticed one of my tires was low in air according to the dashboard light. I looked at the time and kept driving. I figured I could put air in it later. Several blocks later, my na'au, my gut instincts, told me to turn around and go back to the service station across from my apartment that had the free air station. I doubled back and headed up Young Street, still cognizant of the time constraints. It was there, turning off of Young St. onto Ke'eaumoku that I saw Freddy.
I had first met him quite a few years ago, on August 22, 2013, and the encounter that day was life changing for me, in so many ways, and I had truly wished for him as well. Seeing him still struggling on the street years later was painful on a very personal level. As I turned the corner, I could see him and his shopping cart on the sidewalk. I glanced in the rearview mirror and then drove to the gas station. I put air in my floppy tire until it perked up again. I now had greasy dirt on my fingers from the tire valve and was careful not to get it on my tan pants or red shirt given the festivities that morning. As much as I wiped it on a napkin, it seemed stained into my skin.
I got back in my car, but not before opening my wallet. I found only a five and four ones. Nine dollars. Not much. There were more pieces of scribbled paper, unused coupons, receipts and other paper ephemera, than money. I put the bills into my shirt pocket. I figured I had enough time to swing by Freddy and stick my arm out the window to give him a little support and express my continuing love and prayers for him, and then get to work on time. Drive by charity. Awful on so many levels. So awful, I do it all the time to my family circle of struggling street friends...
I exited the gas station and had to quickly shoot across five lanes of traffic on Beretania Street to turn onto Ke'eaumoku. The morning cars had just left the previous traffic light and were barreling down towards me as I drove across five lanes just making it. My Heart received an adrenaline rush, but no chest pains. I was grateful.
As I turned onto Ke'eaumoku, I saw Freddy had pushed his cart into the parking lot of a Sports Bar that was closed, and which seems to change its name every few months. I swung around and drove right up to him in the lot. He looked up at me and a giant grin erupted. He looked awful. He was literally covered from head to toe in grit, dirt and grime. His matted hair sticking out in tufts under a dirty cap.
I greeted him with a big smile and said, "Freddy! Oh my God! How are you brother? Here is a little something for you..." as I stuck my arm out the window towards him. He glanced down at the money in my hand, then looked back up at me as tears started flooding down his blackened face. "Can you help me? Can you pray for me Kai?"
Freddy stood there sobbing, looking at me pleadingly, "I need you to pray for me!" Can you do that?"
I glanced at the time on my car clock as the engine was still running, and then undid my seatbelt and turned the motor off. I opened the door and got out of the car. I thought that time would slow down for me, and if it didn't, I was already committed to this tragic and poignant scene. Work would have to wait. I held back the tears as I got out and smiled at Freddy. I opened my arms and went in to embrace him with my full-body. He lifted his arms up and held back, exclaiming, "I'm so dirty Kai...I'm filthy! I don't want you to get dirty!" He started to cry again. I said, "Don't worry, I'm dirty too!", as I showed him my blackened finger. He chuckled a little through his tears. I then embraced him as hard as I could. To be honest, the thought that my tan pants and red shirt would now be covered in black soot and dirt, for a full-day at work and ceremonial welcoming protocol, crossed my mind momentarily, and I chuckled inside picturing Pig-Pen from Peanuts, now me, walking around my workplace all dirty.
As I held and embraced Freddy, he held me lightly, then nearly squeezed the Life out of me. I prayed as hard as I could. Each time I opened my eyes, I could peripherally see cars slowing down gawking at the strange scene. I closed my eyes and continued praying as tears cascaded down my face with each choice of reverent pleading and petitioning word. The din of traffic disappeared and it was just the two of us, embracing, in a quiet World. Again, nothing else mattered.
When I finished, Freddy looked up at me and said, "You don't know how hard it has been...I try to resist temptation, it is everywhere! The cops were harassing me. I got eighty-sixed from Walmart for a year. They chase me away. Look how dirty I am. I'm clean! You have to believe me...I've been clean for years now."
I told him I was so proud of him, and asked him if he was still going to the Fort Street Mall church he once told me about so excitedly before. He admitted he had stopped for awhile, but also admitted how much they had helped him. He said he could go at 6:30 that night. He needed to get cleaned up. He said he could go to the ocean to wash the dirt off. I said that was a great idea. I told him the ocean doesn't only wash off the physical dirt, but the Spiritual dirt as well. His face lit up and he said he would make his way to the ocean that morning. I gave him the nine-dollars which he reluctantly accepted after having to prompt him. "Are you sure? Are you sure?" he said, and I smiled and said, "Of course! It really isn't that much." He said he had ten dollars that some other people had given him and now he had nineteen. I smiled and told him to spend it wisely. I looked at the time on my phone, and there was a small chance that I could still make it to the office on time for the protocol events, so I hugged Freddy one more time, told him I loved him, and got into my car.
Freddy continued talking to me excitedly though the car window. "Kai! You came just when I needed you...and you prayed for me!" I said, "Of course Freddy...I will help you anytime I see you. I will also continue to pray for you. Stay strong. You can do it!" I felt a little guilty inside knowing that I had only planned to do a drive-by donation given my priorities at work. He smiled and starting showing me little pieces of broken appliances and other debris that he dug out of his cart. He was explaining to me what they were and where he had found them and what he had planned to do with them in his creativity. He then pulled out his little Bible. It was dirty and torn completely in two. It looked like the same scribbled-on Bible that he showed me years ago when I first met him in 2013.
"Do you remember Kai? The Book of Malachi?" he exclaimed excitedly. I did remember. Malachi of the Old Testament. A prophet of God. The verse he read me aloud back in 2013 was very poignant to me in many ways. "Can you get me another Bible? This one is so dirty and broken!" I looked down at his torn pages, and back up at him. "I can get you another Bible brother...a nice clean new one, but the one you have in your possession is very powerful. I think God truly listens intently to prayers from the dirty and broken." I paused for a moment to reflect upon the words that just came from my mouth.
"Do you really think so? Do you think that is true Kai?" Freddy inquired. "Yes. I do believe that. Talk with Him all the time. He listens to you. Especially you...who have suffered so much. He knows you." Freddy smiled with a big grin, so big, that I could see his teeth were in very bad shape. Tears began to flow down my cheeks and I turned my face to hide them from Freddy. "I will continue to pray for you brother, and check up on you when I see you. In the meantime, get down to the ocean. Get cleansed. Get renewed. Then get to church tonight. Let them strengthen and help you. And talk to God. I know he listens to you."
I sat down in my car, fastened my seat-belt, and put my car into drive, and actually started inching forward as Freddy put his hand on my arm. "Thank you Kai! Thank you for praying for me! When will I see you again? When?" I smiled and said, "I have to undergo Heart surgery tomorrow. I'm kind of scared. When I get better, I'll come see you again." Freddy's eyes widened and he said, "I'll pray for you! I'll go to church tonight and pray for you Kai!" I said, "Thank you Freddy! That would mean the World to me..." I looked at him as I began to drive off one last time, and said, "Remember Freddy! I love you brother... very much!" He shouted back, "I love you too Kai! I'll pray for you!"
I then headed to the parking lot exit, and in my rush to try to get to work as quick as I could, I couldn't decide quick enough to turn right onto Ke'eaumoku and then another right onto Young Street, or left onto Ke'eaumoku and then another left onto Beretania Street. With the light just changing, and heavy morning traffic barreling down, I darted out onto Ke'eaumoku to get into the left turning lane. As I drove out, I was horrified to quickly learn that all three lanes of Ke'eaumoku were filled with vehicles. Where I had thought I had pulled into the left-turning lane, I was actually in the wrong lane of oncoming traffic. My heart started pounding, as I inched my car forward. I could feel the horrified stares of other drivers watching the scene. There were wall-to-wall cars next to me. No space anywhere for me to squeeze in. I couldn't believe what I had just done. Just then, cars started turning onto Ke'eaumoku Street from Beretania only to face my car, facing them. Drivers swerved around me one at time giving me the most crazy perplexed looks, shaking heads, horrified stares. I kept inching my car forward, holding my breath that a car wouldn't crash into me head-on. I couldn't reverse. I couldn't u-turn. I could only try to run the red-light and turn left onto Beretania Street. My Heart was pounding at the impending doom and crashing cars.
As I came upon the first car in the real left-turn lane, the driver, a local male looked at me with wide-eyes, surprised by me pulling up alongside of him in the wrong lane. I smiled, threw my arms up in dismay, and shouted, "Sorry brother! I f$%^#*d up!" I barely saw his smile as I looked back at the oncoming traffic. I could barely see around the front of his truck as car after car kept turning and nearly running into me as I kept inching up looking for a break to get out of my nightmare. Just as I pulled up more and could see the oncoming traffic, looking for a break, the next car to turn onto Ke'eaumoku was a Honolulu Police Department patrol car.
My Heart sank into my stomach. I knew that I still forgot to put my insurance card into my glove compartment as the nice HPD solo-bike officer pointed out to me when he gave me a speeding ticket on the Pali Highway a few weeks ago. The last thing I needed was another police traffic stop and God knows how many violations for driving the wrong way in the lane, and still no insurance card on my person.
Like slow motion, I watched the cruiser turn, and then swerve out to avoid running into me. The officer looked at me...and I looked at him...and I smiled. I knew no other reaction. There it was. A smile. Unbelievable. Not fear. Not remorse. Not sadness. A big smile.
I watched him pass me and glanced in my side-view mirror as he slowed down in traffic on Ke'eaumoku. I looked up Beretania, and after a large truck turning. I saw a break. I gassed it and ran the red-light and turned left onto Beretania. As I quickly drove away, I kept looking for the familiar blue flashing lights behind me. Nothing. I kept looking. Holding my breath. Trying to figure out what my excuse would be. Nothing. I even was paranoid that the police officer was headed down Young Street and would cut me off on Beretania. Nothing. As I came alongside another HPD vehicle headed down Beretania to the Main Station, I drove alongside, thinking he was getting the All-Points-Bulletin about a white Toyota, that drives down the wrong lanes, facing oncoming traffic, and runs through red-lights, and simply smiles at the police. Nothing.
I couldn't believe it. I was still greatly embarrassed however. At least a hundred vehicles in all directions, watching this crazy scene unfold. It wasn't a tourist car with typical foreign tourists. It was a big bald local bruddah with a Kamehameha license plate holder. I felt really bad for Ke Ali'i Pauahi. I prayed and apologized to her as I drove. I could also almost hear the chorus of driver's voices exclaiming, "Ha! Busted!" when they saw the HPD cruiser turn the corner and almost run into me. I can only imagine their horror when I proceeded through the red-light and drove off down Beretania seemingly unpunished as the cruiser continued on his way.
I ended up making it to work on time to participate in the welcoming ceremonies. Believe it or not, my clothes were impeccable too. No signs of dirt or grime. No stains. No black marks. Even my finger was somehow clean. Maybe from the sweat that poured down me when I realized I was in the wrong lane facing oncoming traffic. From the sweat of seeing an HPD patrol car turning towards me. Even my Heart didn't hurt, not even once, during that whole stressful ordeal. I quietly gave thanks to Ke Akua, and my Guardian Angels, Spirit Guides, and other helpers. If ever there was a time to have a stress Heart-attack. That was it.
In the end, if that did turn out to be my last day on Earth, my last full-day of Life, what a way to have spent a portion of it. Work would always be there. Even after I am gone. Freddy, and I, however, needed each other that morning. We won't always be here. I was humbly grateful, and remain humbly grateful, to have made it through my surgery and still be here. So much still to do. Still praying for many. Still praying for Freddy.
And in my Heart, deep down, I know that one of the reasons I am still here, is because of the prayers of many. Including some very powerful prayers. Some sincere powerful prayers, coming straight from the dirty and the broken...