After the 1986 election, Senator Inouye called me and asked me to be his professional staff for Native Hawaiian issues on the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, to which he had just been appointed chair. I had lost my previous job when my boss lost his bid for governor and was already co-producing a television series on Native Hawaiian issues in Hawaiʻi. I asked Senator Inouye if he could wait until the following June for me to start, and he did.
During that period between 1987 and the time I returned home again in 1992, to work on his Honolulu staff before branching out on my own, the committee passed significant legislation that directly benefitted Native Hawaiians. The Native Hawaiian Education Act, The Native Hawaiian Health Care Act, The Native Hawaiian Revolving Loan Act, the Native Languages Act and the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act were among the significant bills that I staffed during this time, each one of them the law of the land today. At the markup of the Native Languages Act legislation in his committee, I was staff for the bill and was about to respond to Senator Slade Gorton’s criticism of perpetuating Native American languages when Senator Inouye, who was chairing the committee took control and responded. He gave the most eloquent and extemporaneous speech I have ever heard. Sitting in awe, I listened to him undress Senator Gorton, first his clothes, which he piled up neatly, then his skin, then he took his bones apart and laid them in a precise little pile. There was nothing left of Senator Gorton, and while he still didn’t vote in favor of the bill, it passed overwhelmingly by the rest of the committee. It was moments like this that I will never forget. He was one of the smartest men I have ever known, even when he lectured me one day, as I sat with my arms and legs crossed, refusing to look at him, about why the military needed Kahoʻolawe for target practice. He changed his position later (not because of me) and was instrumental in returning the island to the Hawaiian community.
The last story he told me when I visited him in Washington in July, 2010, was about his encounter with a “shark god”. Here is the story as I wrote it out after our meeting: When he was in the Hawaiʻi territorial legislature, Kamokila Campbell came to him for help. She was having problems with the IRS because she was giving lots of money away to kupuna. She said she couldn’t pay him to help her. Even though they were on opposite sides of the Statehood issue, he said he wasn’t expecting pay and would help her. He fixed her problems and after, she used to call him once or twice a month. He went to visit her at Lanikuhonua and she explained to him that this place was very sacred because it was the home of a shark god. She took him down to the water and he waded in. A shark swam in the cove and came within about 10 feet of him and stopped. When the old women who were gathered saw the fin they started wailing “auwe”. He stood, the shark stayed awhile, then turned around and swam away. He thought 2 things: it’s too shallow for the shark to come closer and bite me, and I better not move or I’ll cause a frenzy. After the shark left, Kamokila told him that it was a blessing. My take on his story, as I told him after listening to it and its amazing similarity to the opening of my book, “Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me”, which I had just given him, was that it was one great leader greeting another.
Aloha ʻoe, Senator, and mahalo for your inspiration, for your brilliance, and for the gift of being able to work for you.
Yesterday I finally got my chance for an overnight sail on Hōkūleʻa. Since coming out of dry dock, Hōkūleʻa has been under sail constantly, going around Oʻahu and traveling to the neighbor islands as well to make sure all old and prospective crew members start getting sailing experience.
I had been thinking for a few months that my kitty, Makana, was ready for a new feline pal. We were both traumatized when her sister was killed by the neighbor’s dog last July, and more than one animal whisperer told me shortly thereafter that Makana didn’t want another cat friend, at least not yet. That was about 10 months ago and while Makana is very independent, she is young (a year and a half) and still likes to play. Playing with me is not nearly as fun as when she and her sister, Hehoa played, although she likes when we stalk each other inside the house.
To make a long story short, a friend came to visit from the mainland last weekend and when I happened to mention I was thinking about getting a kitten friend for Makana, the next thing I knew, we were at the Humane Society! I didn’t really have any idea if Makana wanted another cat in the house and wondered how much I was projecting her desires based on my own likes and dislikes. I looked at the kittens with trepidation, knowing this could backfire if Makana did not want a feline companion. There were plenty to choose from, including several with my favorite black and white coloring, but those kittens weren’t as personable as the black one with green eyes that came and sat on my lap and started purring (black was not even one of my preferred cat colors!). Still being unsure about this idea, I signed the papers and brought him home with me. He is a 2 month old male and I named him Kūlia, which means stand tall, lucky and distinct beauty (and the last pane in I Ku Mau Mau) . The Kū part of his name is for male energy, and I like the kauna of a black cat whose name also means ‘lucky’.
So far they’re still checking each other out from a distance although with each passing day, that distance gets smaller. The advice I read online about introducing a kitten to a home that already has a cat seemed a little over the top as far as isolating the kitten for several days, etc. I’m dreading going through kittenhood again with all the climbing on table tops, knocking things over, worrying about him getting stuck in something. I already accidentally shut him in the fridge when I didn’t see him climb in before I shut the door! And soon enough he will want to go outside, but that’s definitely not going to happen until he and Makana are friends, and hopefully he will figure out to stay out of the yard with the dog. In the meantime, the Hawaiian Humane Society is great place and I hope all the kitty cats there, old and young, find homes.
I spoke with a Catholic friend about An Unquenchable Thirst and got a very different perspective from that of the author (see my previous blog). My friend is very spiritual, not necessarily in a Catholic way but more in a Native Athabaskan way that reflects her heritage and culture.
She reminded me that there is a level of spiritual connection that can occur between any spiritual person and God that in fact transcends the need for the human connection and material satisfaction that the author so desperately sought. This enlightenment is the ultimate goal of a spiritual journey, whether one is Buddhist, Hindu, Catholic, shaman or otherwise, and sacrifice is always a major part of it. I already know this and didn’t consider it as I reacted more to the words on the page of the book.
Rather than delete my previous blog altogether I feel compelled to amend it with this note because the story is still legitimately the author’s experience and either way, I commend her for her honesty and integrity and inspiration to live a meaningful life. But I do feel sorry for her that she never fully transcended the every day drudgery and politics to achieve the bliss and compassion that would have come with enlightenment. I will continue to believe that the majority of those who dedicate their lives to a spiritual path will eventually arrive at the unitive way they seek, and I will continue to be happy for the author that she found her peace elsewhere.
Two weeks ago a newly published book arrived in my mailbox that I was to forward on to a friend. The title and first few pages intrigued me, as it looked like it was going to be a book about life in the nunnery and insights into the life of Mother Teresa. In my romanticized view of what goes on behind the cloistered walls, I have always imagined monks and nuns sitting in the garden much of the day, meditating and contemplating God, doing a few odd jobs to keep them busy and singing Gregorian chants in the chapel, so I was interested to see if I was even half right. Not surprisingly, that is not how they spend their days! The more I read in this book, the more horrified I became about the so-called contemplative lifestyle, and then I needed to keep reading to know what it was going to take for the author to get out of her commitment to God and leave the Missionaries of Charity. My friend generously let me finish the book before sending it on, and I completed it this morning. This is the fastest I have read 544 pages in recent memory!
The book is called An Unquenchable Thirst: Following Mother Teresa in Search of Love, Service and an Authentic Life, a memoir by Mary Johnson, a former sister in Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. I am not Catholic, was not raised Catholic and in fact have issues with the Catholic Church as I do with most organized religions and their dogma, which are more about greed and self aggrandizement than anything else (like the missionaries who came to Hawai’i to do good, and in fact did well). Yet I was curious, wondering what the life of a nun is like in the twentieth and twenty first centuries and wanting to learn more about the mystique of Mother Teresa. Who knows, maybe I would have changed my opinion, at least about the Catholic Church.
‘An Unquenchable Thirst’ is simply written, the author recreates dialogue with the sisters she encounters over the years to move the story forward. Although the author’s journey began almost 35 years ago, the events feel fresh, raw, like it all happened earlier this year. Her story includes a fascinating, sometimes voyeuristic exposé of life in the convent. The sisters are expected to live without any of the conveniences of modern life, they are worked long hours, they are not particularly treated well by their superiors, they practice disciplines (self punishment) and probably harshest of all, their marriage to Jesus is expected to fill every need in their lives, including the need – and desire – for human closeness. I find it hard to believe that Jesus would have wanted his followers to live under such conditions or to practice such a lifestyle. As a reader who was getting my first glimpse into life as a nun in this day and age, I have to say I was shocked, and I started wondering how this lifestyle differs from that in any other cult in which Faith and Rules and a Strict Hierarchy are the cement that holds everything else together. What moved me about this book, however, was the author’s courage to tell her story, including every mistake, every painful decision she had to make that finally led her to realize that she could no longer be part of this society. As Joseph Campbell said, “follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls”. It took an enormous amount of bravery and integrity for her to follow her bliss, and it’s not clear how much God helped.
I am grateful that this book found its way into my house as I would not likely have sought it out or otherwise found it. I am enriched by the author’s perseverance and compassion and mostly by her honesty and willingness to tell this powerful story. It further confirms my poor opinion of the church, but mostly the story renewed my desire and motivation to try and live a life that matters, which I think is what this book is ultimately about. Mahalo ia ‘oe, Mary Johnson.