I met Derrick standing by a bench next to the Kapalama Canal. His deep tan seemed to glow against the reflection of the water. The air felt clean and my skin was still cool from being at the news station for my morning interview. I glanced at him and made quick eye contact. He was busy talking to someone and our eyes met again — this time I waved at him. He nodded and smiled. I awkwardly introduced myself, almost interrupting their conversation, and sort of back-stepped towards a bench.
I could tell he was curious about me and my half-hearted attempt to say “hello.” I didn’t have any specific plan by being there. I had just left the news station from doing an interview on the Sunrise Show. I felt the pull to drive by the canal. Someone had mentioned that a one-mile fence would be built alongside this canal… another way to address the “homeless problem.”
So, there I was. I wanted quiet. Some “me” time. It is always emotionally draining to expose myself… to be vulnerable to a public audience, even if I’m just sitting under bright lights with a really warm reporter/human-being next to me. It was nice to be outside… a good break from where I had just been. I sat there alone, on the picnic table, and watched people come out of their tents. One lady was preparing her breakfast — it smelled like she was frying up some eggs and sausage. My stomach started to growl. I hadn’t had breakfast yet.
My attention came back to Derrick. His friend was gone and he was standing right next to me. Smiling, he asked what I was doing here.
“Here we go,” I thought.
I was honest. I told him where I had just come from, my journey, and my nervousness about sharing personal details of my life. He listened attentively. Layer by layer, I shared my hopes, my pain and fear. I mentioned how I felt so alone at times. And how I appreciate the quiet and solitude because it is a reminder that I, alone, will have to face my fears and manifest my hopes and dreams into reality. It’s that moment of pause we have in life that gives us the freedom to choose our next step.
I went on to share my thoughts about the money that would be spent on building the fence. I explained my belief that helping isn’t always about spending money. As children, we are oftentimes asked if we want anything… if there’s anything we can buy to make them happy or feel better. And it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to buy a gift or a token of our appreciation. But it is the thought and intent behind it that truly touches the person… touches the child… It’s about love. People want to feel loved, to have someone listen to them and their feelings, and be held when they’re not feeling good. I’m not so sure that building a fence will help the situation.
He shared his own life story — how he had lived a life of incredible financial freedom at a young age. Derrick had money, lots of it, and he blew it all away on the “wrong things” in his early years. He remembers a time when he would drive by homeless people, scoffing at their circumstances and turning away from them — seeing them as failures in life.
My stomach started to growl.
I asked if he was hungry and his response made me laugh. “Girl, I am one Hawaiian braddah, I can always eat.” Thank goodness. I was starving. We walked over to the nearest Zippy’s restaurant and ordered rice, eggs, and portuguese sausage. He liked his rice the same way I did — colored with shoyu and tabasco. Perfect.
We sat by a big window and he shared more about his life and the new perspective and life path he was on. He enjoys helping people. Derrick reflected on a time when he had “everything,” yet he was incredibly unhappy with life. And now at the cusp of being 50 years-old, he has very little in the material sense, but has never felt more content. He is happy. He is learning to be at peace with himself, and being on the streets is part of that journey in helping him to get there.
The journey for Derrick is more spiritual than anything else. He shared the struggles of his father, his family, those who came before him… and at one point he lifted his shirt, revealing a tattoo across his chest that read:
‘Ōiwi na’u koko ha’aheo na’u koko
(Hawaiian by blood, proud by choice)
I grew up in Hawai`i, but cannot claim to fully understand the incredibly deep, interconnected, and enriching history and language of Hawai`i. However, I do have a deep respect for Native Hawaiians, like Derrick, who are part of an ongoing economic, social, cultural struggle that threatens the cultural practices and way of life of Indigenous Peoples. For those who are interested in learning more, I highly recommend reading “Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawai`i?”.
He explained that many people living near Kapalama Canal express frustration in wanting a subsistence way of life, but not having the option to. At the same time, there are many who are depressed and need a friend. I realized that Derrick and I were a lot alike in this way… Wanting to be a friend, feeling connected to ourselves by connecting with others, but also appreciating our moments of solitude to recharge and reflect.
I wondered if he was depressed.
I openly shared how, in retrospect, I was depressed while my father was homeless. And how I learned to deal with being alone, compartmentalizing the pain, in order to keep things together in other areas of my life. It was so hard, and I know I’m a different person because of it. I have grown, no doubt, but I have also learned how to approach challenging experiences as an opportunity for growth. And I don’t mind having to push myself… I’m accepting what it means to be uncomfortable.
“Kūlia i ka nu‘u,” he said.
(Strive to the summit)
Derrick acknowledged what I was sharing. I was revealing myself to him — a period of personal turmoil that I really hadn’t broken down yet. It was hard, but I got over it. And that’s really all that mattered. But he didn’t mind listening to the details, watching the layers unfold that morning, as I was fresh from just sharing my story live on-air.
I think he noticed the change in my mood because he abruptly changed my train of thought by mentioning his mother. His mother shared something with him at an early age, and he wanted to share it with me. He asked me to spell out the word “depression.” I said each letter out loud, slowly… Then he asked me to cross out the first “d”, the “e”, and the “i.”
When you take the word “depression,” and you cross out those letters, you’re left with the words “press on.” If you don’t “press on” in life, then the three letters you took out spell “die,” and you will surely “die” because of your depression.
“So, Diana… press on, kūlia i ka nu‘u, strive to the summit” he said.
Yes, Derrick. I will. It has taken me over a week to write this post… I’ve held onto the strength and thoughtfulness of his words… of the life that is woven into his words… It means a lot to me, and now I’m sharing them with you. As I drove away that morning, I felt happier… understood, validated… I smiled knowing that he had helped me, and I had helped him. We saw each other and our hearts nodded quietly as I waved goodbye. It’s never truly goodbye, though. Deep down inside, I know I will see him again.
Wishing you all the best in the journey… until next time…