A little over a week ago, I had the Honor of speaking to Seniors getting ready to embark upon the World at Nānākuli High School. A special education teacher, who was also co-teaching an English Language Arts Strategic Reading class, had contacted me, and had let me know that he was using some of my stories and photos from Facebook as culturally relevant reading curriculum for his classes. A large Native Hawaiian population attends the school. He inquired as to my willingness and availability to come to speak to his class. I was so honored and humbled by his request and immediately accepted. He then asked for my address, and the next day I received a dozen letters from his students inviting me to come speak to them, sharing some of their favorite or most memorable readings, and recalling some of the trials and tribulations of my recent life. I was moved to tears. It truly was one of the most meaningful episodes of my life.
The day came for my sharing, and just prior to entering the classroom which had turned into two classes combined with some teachers and other invited guests, I really became nervous. My phone rang and it was my office. A houseless Native Hawaiian family had stopped by, and the father of the 'ohana, Darren, had been trying to get ahold of me for several days. Darren, his wife Sharene, and their two small girls, Deena and Rosy, had been living in parks, on the streets, sidewalks and in a truck over the past five years that I knew them. The two girls were born without a home and only recently, was the family able to secure an apartment. The girls ran to our receptionist and exclaimed, "Mommy died." When I heard the news over the phone, I couldn't help but cry. I told my co-worker to let Darren know that I was in Nānākuli and that if he came back later, or tomorrow morning, I would look for him.
I entered the classroom and looked at all the Beautiful youthful faces. Before I could get started, I erupted in tears and had to explain about the phone call I just received. I shared a little about the plight of that 'ohana, and the tragedy of what had just occurred.
The sharing went on for over an hour. Spirit led me to share stories, experiences, 'ike Hawai'i, advice, and anything that these young men and women needed to hear, not from me, but from Spirit. After the pule and oli, the gusts of wind blew through the classroom. The kūpuna were there.
I always carry the Kamehameha guilt with me. Not because I was named after Ka'iana-a-'ahu'ula, who purportedly betrayed Kamehameha by aligning with Kalanikūpule's forces in the Battle of Nu'uanu, but having attended Kamehameha Schools, and not really appreciating that Blessing until decades later. I even shamefully sold my class ring while in college when I was cash-strapped.
As I gazed upon these Beautiful faces of these students, I always think about opportunity, and how many lives could have been positively impacted by the resources available to Kamehameha Schools students, and how many rejections letters pour out each year dashing the hopes and dreams of so many families.
I shared a little about my classmates who served time in prison, or who took their own lives after graduation, stressing that school is what you make of it, and the love and dedication of their parents, their teachers, administrators, all the people who make Nānākuli High School a special place is what counts. Still, deep down, I couldn't shake my pervasive guilt. A guilt that has directed my life and efforts to give back to the Native Hawaiian community for the past twenty-two years.
At one point, I was sharing an experience of dealing with the Spirit of a deceased woman, and ali'i, whose remains were under my care, and about an 'aumakua, an ancestral guardian, who appeared in my office to two women with the gift of 'ike pāpā lua, or second sight, when I suddenly realized that the story was about Deena, and her Mother, Sharene, pregnant with Rosy at the time, who fled to my office after a family quarrel. I erupted in tears again thinking about Sharene, recalling the news that I received a half-hour before, still in disbelief.
That day ended well. Beautiful. Hopefull. Full of Love. I so appreciated the teacher who first contacted me, his dedication to these young lives, his commitment, sacrifice, and Love. All the guests were awesome. The students Beautiful.
The next day, I had hoped Darren would show up but he didn't. It wasn't until the following week that he had stopped by the office in the morning again looking for me. By the time I arrived, he had left already saying he would come back later. Fortunately, he left a telephone number. I was able to locate him as he had been walking with the girls downtown.
I drove to his location and there he was, with his two girls, sitting on the corner of Smith and Nimitz. He pointed to my car at the stoplight, and the girls saw me and waved excitedly. I can't imagine how many miles, and miles, these two little girls have walked in their short lives.
They piled into the car, and Deena and Rosy were fascinated to buckle up and touch the electronic window buttons. I embraced Darren, expressed my Heartfelt grief, and asked him to tell me what happened.
He shared the story as I hung onto every word, knowing that the girls in the backseat were listening. I asked him where I could take him, and he said he needed to go to the Queen Lili'uokalani Children's Center for assistance. As we drove, he explained how Sharene hadn't felt well for several weeks. She was finally in such a state of pain and distress that he called the ambulance for her. She was taken to Straub with double pneumonia.
When he arrived with the girls, they spent the night in her room. She had tubes, respirator, and all kinds of Life Support hooked up. He actually thought she was getting better, but he took the girls to get some dinner, and when he returned, her organs had failed and she died. Darren seemed numb recalling the events, as his eyes welled-up with tears. The girls were quiet in the backseat.
I couldn't believe it. I knew how hard it was living on the streets, always moving, always accumulating things and then losing things, then accumulating different things, to keep surviving. A strong headed Father, a Mother with so many demons, and two precious little girls who never asked for such a hard life. The last time I saw Sharene, she looked good, for having been through so much. They finally made it into housing. After being pregnant on the streets with both Deena and Rosy. Squatting over five-gallon buckets to relieve yourself. Finding water faucets to hook up your hose to shower in the cold water. Protecting your little girls from the constant threat of depraved men who walk the streets at night. It was a brutal life. I was hopeful when they found a place to live finally. Just like another houseless friend, Meredith, after ten years on the street, she finally found a roof and bed, and the kindness of strangers, only to die a few months later of cancer. Now Sharene was gone.
We went to QLCC and met with a social worker who had put the family in the system to be assigned a case worker. Now that the girls were considered orphans, with one parent gone. Just like Kamehameha Schools, who gives preference to orphans who have one parent gone. I again reflected upon the fate of these two beautiful Spirits. The seemingly impossibility of gaining admission to Kamehameha. Rosy hasn't started school yet approaching the age of four and Deena just attended school briefly until her life was disrupted again. She is already falling behind. I thought to myself, aren't these the kinds of Native Hawaiian children that Princess Pauahi wanted to help the most. Those most in danger of repeating cycles of despondency. Those who need the most Life can offer, the most resources and help of an Educational Institution. I fear for their future given such a difficult Life already, and now with the loss of their Mother.
After we left QLCC, after the staff kindly made the girls a little sandwich lunch. I asked Darren where he needed to go next and he said he wanted to check on Social Security death benefits at the Federal Building. I drove him there, and suggested that he leave the girls in the car with me while he ran upstairs. He hesitated briefly. "Don't let anyone take my girls away Kai." I said, "Don't worry brother...I'll protect them with my Life." I knew he had run-ins with the Honolulu Police and Child Protective Services while on the street and was wary of them. I also knew that I had earned his trust over the past five years in so many situations. I didn't have child seats, so we strapped the girls in doubly tight with the seat-belts and told them to keep their heads down.
Darren went up to the Federal Building alone, and I parked on the side with the girls. Next thing I knew, Rosy unstrapped herself and climbed over the front seat. Deena had begged for her Father's phone to watch videos in the car while she waited. He obliged right before he left. I sat there praying that nothing happened to Darren in the Federal Building, and secondly, that HPD wouldn't knock on my window and see the two girls with no child-seats.
I made small conversation with the girls, asking how they were. Rosy couldn't help but press every button on the dashboard and look at everything. Normally, I would say something to a child who did that, but I thought to myself, these poor girls have grown up without really knowing the inside of a car. Rosy loved the air conditioner as she let it blow across her face. Years of sweltering heat.
Suddenly, Deena handed me the phone and I saw two videos on the camera roll. Rosy looked over at the phone in my hand. Deena's little hand popped up from the back-seat and Deena said, "Uncle Kai! Watch the video..." She then clicked on the icon. There was Darren, filming himself in the hospital, explaining how they had just brought Sharene in and the family was staying with her for the night. He was tired, sweaty, and upset as he talked about how they came to be there. The video ended after about a minute.
Then Deena reached over and pressed the other video. Right before it started, Rosy leaned over, glanced at the phone, and said, "Uncle Kai...don't cry when you watch it. Okay?" I looked at her in disbelief and she said it again. "Don't cry Uncle Kai when you watch it. Okay?" I looked back at the phone as the video started. It was of Sharene. Lying in the hospital bed. Her face swollen. Respirator in her mouth, Other tubes in and out of her. She layed there with her eyes closed and she coughed. Tears poured down my face. Rosy's voice broke the silence, "Uncle Kai. Don't cry or Deena will cry again." I could sense Deena behind me, absorbed in her own tears. She is such a strong girl. I knew she had been through so much on the street. I witnessed much myself. She sat there, while Rosy wiped some tears off of my cheek. I thanked her as more tears fells. I said, "It's okay to cry. I'm crying because I love your Mother."
Suddenly Deena's hand reached around the headrest and she grabbed the phone. "I'm going to make videos for Mommy" she said. She began recording herself. "I'm Deena and this is for Mommy. This is me. This is my little sister, Rosy, and she is kind of ugly." Rosy jumped up from the front seat and yelled, "Hey! Stop videotaping me!" She catapulted into the backseat and the two girls began wrestling and giggling.
I looked back and Rosy said, "The doctors made Mommy sleep. That's why we can't talk with her in the video. She is sleeping." I didn't know what to say, so I said, "Mommy loves you two so very much. She wants you to know that. Right now. She is always with you. Always around you. If you close your eyes, you can feel her."
Deena started filming herself again, almost in a repeat of her first recording, and introduced herself, stated the video was for Mommy, and introduced her sister again, as "kind of ugly." This time Rosy ignored her, and looked up at me, and said, "Our hair has Mommy's Love." I looked at her, smiled, trying to hold back the tears. I said, "That's Beautiful." Rosy said, "Mommy always brushed our hair." Tears began welling up again.
I said, "You watch for signs of Mommy, girls. She may come as a noisy bird in the tree. She may come as a butterfly, fluttering around you outside." Rosy smiled and her face lit up. "A Butterfly" she exclaimed. "Mommy will come as a Butterfly! She has a Butterfly tattoo."
Tears fell. I said, "Yes...she will come as a Butterfly."
The day with them wasn't over, but when we ultimately parted that day. I made sure to hug the girls tight, and squeeze them. I told them this is from Mommy. She loves you girls so much and is so very proud of you both." And I knew, that somewhere in the Universe, in a Realm and Veil that seems so distant from us, yet is truly closer than we realize, a Mother who wasn't ready to leave, left. And I know she took an opportunity, to feel her girls one more time, to hug and embrace them. For her work as a Mother, is truly just beginning...