Lanterns Floating Hawaii

It was an amazing gathering of 50,000 people at Ala Moana Beach in Oahu. People from various backgrounds gathered to send candle lit lanterns into the ocean in honor of their deceased loved ones. The ceremony itself involved the blessing of a Japanese Buddhist High Monk, a Hawaiian chant by Uncle Hau’ole, and a send off of canoes which gather the lanterns that have been sent out to sea. I felt enveloped by glowing comfort as I stood in waste high water, surrounded by lanterns with my future wife.

Categories: g kamana hunter, george hunter, hawaii, Huffington, ocean, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Homeless in Paradise

There they were. Two women in their late 20’s walking down the ocean front street in front of my house. They were followed by 7 or 8 kids, some on foot, one on a bike and two riding tricycles. They were new to town. I waved.
“Good morning”, one of the women said. Their family had passed by our house many times before. The more vocal woman had an accent that suggested that they were probably from the Northeast part of the mainland. For certain, they weren’t from Hawaii, but the family seemed to fit into our culturally mixed neighborhood of transplants and locals.
There was a certain look in the adults eyes that peeked my interest. After working outreach with people experiencing homelessness in Albuquerque, I knew that troubled gaze well. Their eyes showed that controlled fear of survival mode, that contained panic in search of a safe place to sleep. A twinge of compassion warmed my heart as I looked at the struggling family.  Seeing the kids having fun gave me hope for them.
“Yep, those are the squatters. They took over that big two level house down there,” my neighbor said as she pointed to the dwelling two blocks away. “We tried to buy that house out of foreclosure, but the bank never got back to us. These women must be very experienced at squatting because they knew just when to move in. Who knows how long they will be there.” 
Many neighbors expressed fear and anger about people taking over a house that was not theirs. The broken system which favors unresponsive and uncooperative banks leaves plenty opportunity for people to squat in  foreclosed houses. My head was hot with agitation at the lack of respect of these mothers exploiting a loop hole. 
“This is unacceptable,” another neighbor said. “Who’s to stop them from robbing our houses if they seem so comfortable being in a house that’s not theirs? I know for a fact that they’re not renting because I had my real estate agent look into it.” His face got noticeably red.
Another neighbor also felt angry. “There are a lot of people who come here from the mainland. They save their money to come here, and then they live off the system…you know, shelters, food stamps… They have no intentions of getting a job. The newspaper said over 40% of homeless people in Hawaii are from the mainland,” the Hawaiian auntie said with a furrowed brow. Her family had been on this land for several generations, paid their taxes, and watched more and more people become homeless in paradise. 
It was a hot button issue for our neighborhood. Most people viewed anyone experiencing homelessness as a cheat, a drunk, or jobless loser. But after my work at First Nations Community Health Source in New Mexico, I knew that generalization did not hold up for most of the recently homeless. The people our team helped were more often single mothers escaping domestic violence or untreated Veterans with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). A spike in the number of teenagers on the street escaping sexual abuse and broken families was alarming. Perhaps the most surprising demographic was how many people with Masters degrees we were finding in shelters and couch surfing at a friend’s house.  Hearing their stories face to face opened a wellspring of empathy in my chest.  I couldn’t shame them for surviving events that were often out of their control.  In many cases, choosing to be homeless got them out of more dangerous situations.
The instant shaming of the homeless was a quick response of any prideful American. But new circumstances have produced more homeless than ever before. The recent turn in the real estate market and dishonest banks has left piles of families on the street. Half of the homeless we saw actually worked at least one job, sometimes 2 jobs. At least a quarter of all homeless lost their jobs and pension to layoffs, while a CEO jumped ship with their multimillion dollar golden parachute. Doing Homeless Outreach showed me that the growing numbers of homeless citizens were not the stereotypical untreated schizophrenics and chronic alcoholics. These days, far too many families are suffering from the mistakes of Wall Street. 
But it still bothered me that these two women were essentially stealing a rental. It made our neighborhood feel unsafe. How dare they do this! Since they weren’t Native Hawaiian, their story was not connected to the painful history of this land. They weren’t the people sleeping on park benches or the friend who needed a couch to sleep on. Perhaps they were escaping abusive partners, but this did not excuse squatting.
My own judgments of these women began to surface. What were they teaching their kids?! What would happen to the kids if they were reported? Is the social and legal system equipped to handle this situation if these squatters have lived here for months already?
But for me, it really boiled down to one question. How do I protect my neighborhood, my home, yet still show compassion to these homeless children?
Categories: alcoholism, bailout, evicted, eviction, foreclosure, foreclosures, hawaii, homeless, native, ocean, outreach, squatters, wall street | 3 Comments

City of Refuge, Hawaii

Hawaii, Big Island, a land that still flows with lava from the active volcano. It has remained one of the few places on earth still making new land. Most of the lava has cooled into coal black surfaces. The blackened lava was all over the Kona side of Big Island. It created barriers, tunnels, secret scuba caves, and massive cliffs. Hawaiians have long made use of the lava rocks as stones for the walls of heiau (temples). As I walked into Pu`uhonua o Honaunau, the City of Refuge in South Kona, I was met by an elaborate series of lava rock walls that stood 6-8 feet high. The ground was a mix of lush flowers, sprawling hot tub puddles, white sand, and mounds of smooth black lava. In the distance lay the bay, a playground for honu (sea turtles) and nai`i (spinner dolphins). The crystal clear water revealed a reef with splatters of pink, lime green, forest green, and white. The sea floor was healthy. It was not surprising to learn that the nearby waters are a hot spot for snorkeling and scuba diving. 

In the old days of Hawaii, a strict system of Kapu ruled the Hawaiian Natives. The English version of the word kapu is taboo, which is used to describe when a social norm has been broken. If a Native Hawaiian broke kapu in a serious way, death was one possible punishment for the crime. However, if the lawbreaker made it to the City of Refuge, which often requiring swimming several miles to escape the lower chiefs in pursuit, then they could be absolved for violating kapu. In short, those who made it to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau would live, despite their past mistakes. It was the ultimate safe zone, a place free from war, bloodshed, and retribution. There was no higher authority than to be in the presence of this sacred land, held in the secure hold of the lava walls.

My first impression as I walked into the ancient seaside complex was a sense of calm. Each heiau (temple) that I have visited had its own character. Being within these walls held a freedom from worry about burdensome details. In the nearby bay, a spinner dolphin popped up and hurdled his body backwards with a splash. Another followed by doing the moonwalk, Flipper style. Though the heiau has continued to be a place of serious significance, play was in the air. Bare foot, I felt every nook of the smooth lava which looked like black elephant skin. While walking toward the ocean over a frozen sea of lava, a honu popped his head up for a photo. He was in one of the shallow pools which eventually connected with the ocean. Honu found lots of lovely green stuff to eat off the coral, then cruised back towards the sea.
I stood for a moment on an ice cream scoop mound of cooled lava. Thoughts seemed less significant, as the awe of the land took over. Memories passed through my mind rapidly, as if there were an old projector in the front of my head. The memories were scenes with ex-girlfriends. I had broken their hearts, and the movie memories were of heartbreaking goodbyes. Covert blisters of old feelings came to the surface, popping out of my chest and stomach. They rose up like intense waves and left like shore splashes. Yes, I have hurt people that I love. The greatest of this pain started with dreaming, that vulnerability that comes with sharing dreams of a future together. Then, the painful twinge, the realization that the fights were the same and something in my tired heart said we were done. Our lives moved in different directions and it was time to stop holding on. In these painful partings, I had to choose myself first, choose where life was taking me.This also meant accepting that life was taking a former partner in their own direction. That choice to surrender, to let go, meant breaking our spoken promises. It meant releasing “forever” and “life partner” and “children”. To keep faithful to my truest longings, I had to break the promises made in more enthusiastic times. 

Somehow, the walls here at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau facilitated the release, made it more gentle. Part of me was waiting for a place like this to let it all go. As the old pain from hard choices left my body like unseen phantoms, there was room to breathe again. A pocket of self anger came up, making my face flood red. How could I be so charismatic in my promises, and then leave? The neck breaking tightness of self expectation squeezed hard. How could a Healer wound someone they love in this deep way? 
Then, an insight arrived. I have always been a man first. I’ve always been a human being learning from others. Being a Healer is built on that platform. Whenever my humanity shakes, the Healer stumbles but does not crumble. Rather, the shaking was essential in the way a sculptor must cleave away the surface of an emerging statue. This humbling insight lead to self acceptance. I did the best that I could do.
My new partner, a Hawaiian beauty with cherub smile, has been by my side the whole time. Kaimiola. Her name means Seeker of Life. We walked through the refuge together, sharing steps of our life.  The cleansing I was going through was making more room for her to be with me.  Her steady presence has accepted me, has trusted me.

We stood around a deep cavern in the middle of the lava field. It was a donut hole, filled with clear water and pretty coral, stretching 15 feet deep and 12 feet wide. She stripped off her pareo, pulled up the straps of her bathing suit and plunged into the deep, brisk water of the donut hole. I jumped in after her, consecrated by the cold plunge of salty blessing. Then, forgiveness came. I had forgiven my potential life partners of the past a long time ago. Afterall, I had been hurt too.  But this moment of self forgiveness seemed to come last.  It was the moment I was waiting for. The future didn’t matter to the cold water on my skin, and the past lost its grip. This moment filled us with joy and laughter, like two crazy kids playing in their big backyard. Two tourists laughed in disbelief at our crazy stunt, then snapped pictures of us like we were two exotic seals. At the very least, they could have fed us some fish. 

It was my courageous decisions to leave the past which have brought me to this place. I’m grateful to those who have supported me along the way.  In this City of Refuge, my mistakes were lessons and my struggles were the rigors of passing through my old wounds. I could see how much I have grown from the past hurt. The wounds were necessary experiences that helped me recognize myself more clearly. By passing through these wounded doorways, I have left the familiar stories of my life behind. The aliveness that I have found was worth it!

Check back every other Sunday for the next blog entry. Aloha.
Categories: big island, city of refuge, dolphin, hawaii, honaunau, kona, ocean, pu'uhonua o honaunau, sanctuay, scuba, temple, turtle, vacation | 2 Comments

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