Last weekend, I lost a good friend. Joseph Madela. When I first met Joe, he seemed to always have his Beautiful Father with him. Then in his 90’s, he couldn’t stand for very long, eventually resigning to a wheelchair which Joe lovingly transported him around in like a dutiful son. Joe and his father were a fixture at many Hawaiian events, ceremonies and celebrations. Joe loved Hawai’i, Hawaiians and our culture.
I was shocked to hear that Joe passed away last Saturday. I had just seen him the day before at Costco in Iwilei. I was even more shocked to find out that he collapsed in the Costco parking lot sometime after I saw him. He was transported to the hospital where he passed away the next morning.
After Joe’s father passed away, Joe was by himself. He lost the home they shared and without the support of his father, became houseless. He made a Sojourn to the Philippines, but returned to Hawai’i as this was where his Heart truly was. Joe and his Father had always helped support all things Hawaiian.
Life was hard for Joe and it became increasingly harder when he was alone. A Veteran, he received some medical services from his acquired benefits, but suffered a stroke years ago that kept him precariously here and with us. Although he recovered amazingly, he was still fragile.
Recently, I would see him with his heavy duffel bag, or backpack, walking around town, carrying his World on his shoulders. He slept in parks, at Ala Moana, and even on the City Bus that went around the island. The drivers seemed to let him do that out of compassion.
I owe Joseph and his Father much. Reigniting a passion for all things Hawaiian in me. Understanding Sacrifice and Love. Realizing a malo can be worn with the body you have, the one Ke Akua gave you. Not necessarily the chiseled ones we sometimes see in paintings.
When Joe and I saw each other, sometimes weekly, he would always have a giant smile. He never complained about his living situation and struggle. He preferred more to talk of our history, culture. Our Ali’i. Honoring the past and forging the Future. He Loved our Queen. He was always looking for opportunities to honor them, to serve them. To inspire all of us kanaka, even with his stubbornness and hardheadedness at times.
Sometimes I could tell he was worn out. Hurting. Exhausted. Sweaty. Smelly. Tattered shirt. Having walked miles. Yet he carried on, with his heavy baggage. And sometimes the baggage of many of us.
Last Friday, I ran into Joe while passing through the Costco outside seating area. He gave me a great big smile. I immediately went up to him, and bent down to give him a big hug. I asked him how he was doing. “Maika’i” he responded as he always did. “Good.”
I was headed back to work for a meeting. I instinctively pulled out of my wallet, whatever cash was there, and gave it to him. He never asked for money. I always offered. He always graciously accepted knowing that refusal never was an option from past experiences. I told him to get something to eat, and if he wanted to, get some food for some of the other Hawaiians, we both knew, who were sitting across the aisle from him. He smiled his bright shiny toothy smile.
I bent down and hugged him again, and said, “I love you brother…” and he squeezed me and said, “I love you too…” and then we departed. He yelled, “Hey, when are we going to have lunch?” I stopped and turned to face him. “Give me call or my secretary Anita and we can get together next Thursday or Friday.” He looked plaintively at me. I asked, “Do you have a phone?” He smiled and said someone had stolen it from him the day before. I said, “Call from a payphone.” He laughed and said, “Hiki no…” Can do.
I continued my Journey but stopped and looked back. He smiled at me. I said, “You do realize that there are only four payphones left on the island of O’ahu?” He laughed out loud. I laughed and said, “Alright, see you next week!”
I am hoping he bought some food and filled his stomach. I don’t know how long after that encounter and exchange, that he took his final walk through the parking lot and collapsed. I just hope that someone was there with him, holding his hand, while they waited for the ambulance to arrive. Your last moments on Earth should always be with Love and Kindness. Compassion.
I thought about that last encounter. If I knew Joe would leave us all shortly after that exchange, would I have said or done anything different. In Reflecting this past week, I don’t think so. We lived that way as long as we both knew each other. We both knew that both of our lives were precarious having both gone through Life Support. A hug. Some sharing of financial Blessings for sustenance. To share a meal. To have a full stomach. Expressing our Love for each other. These were the things that bonded us. These reinforce Love and Life, as we never know when our last day arrives quietly and unexpectedly.
I am already missing my brother. I know that his Father was with him. That brings me great comfort. He came to greet him. To retrieve his son from this often harsh and uncaring Life. So I know one day, Joseph will indeed call me for that lunch appointment. I very much look forward to that day. One day, way in the future, I can only hope right now.
Love you brother Joseph. Rest up. Bask in the Eternal Love and Light. You definitely earned it. To Leave on your Next Journey. With a Hug. With a Smile. With a full Stomach. With a Laugh. With Love. Mahalo Ke Akua for All of these Blessings. Large and Small…