“Addressing the most needed areas, helping the lowest first.”

Vincent and I taking a moment to capture a photograph together.

Vincent and I taking a moment to capture a photograph together.

A few days ago, I agreed to do an interview with BBC and found myself sitting in the Hawai`i Public Radio station at 9:00pm waiting for a call from London. As I sat and waited for the reporter to ring in, I looked around the room where I “came out” and shared my story for the first time.

The phone rang.

It was surreal to hear the voice on the other end ask questions about my life. We spent nearly an hour talking about life and my personal experiences with my father. What it was like to see him for the “first time,” and what that “first time” really meant. At the end of the interview, I really wasn’t sure what the direction of the story would be. I know it is largely up to the reporters to edit… we shall see.

It was past 10:00pm by the time I walked out of the station. I realized that the last time I made this drive home at night was when my father was still on the streets. As I quietly drove down the street where my father use to sleep, I felt the need to pull over. I pulled the car to the side, in front of a meter, like I had done hundreds of times. And then I walked out towards the doorway where my father slept.

I stood there by myself… soaking in the fluorescent light hanging from the storefront. I raised my fingertips to the sides of the doorway, feeling the roughness of the frame. Slowly, I sunk down to the floor and breathed in my moment of solitude in that doorway.

“He survived… He got out,” I said to myself. 

I said a quiet prayer that night… to the world, to my universe/God/creator. As I got back into the car to drive away, I noticed a man walking towards my direction. He had a bag full of recyclables, just like my father did. I was getting ready to leave, but I felt this pull to stay.

“It’s late… should I stay? Should I go?”

I decided to stay.

Stopping for Vincent

I rolled down my window and waved at him. He looked surprised. I smiled at him and asked if he was hungry — if it’d be alright to hangout with him. He nodded that it was. I sat next to him and learned his name… Vincent. That he has been living on the streets for quite some time, wants to be a marriage therapist to help couples and families with conflict resolution. I could tell that his more recent relationship issues were plaguing his heart, and that he was carrying a painful weight he couldn’t accept.

Vincent gazing at the cars passing by.

Vincent gazing at the cars passing by.

We talked about the society that continues to unfold in front of us, and what that means for the people who live on the streets. I shared my own story with him, and how I feel most “alive” when I’m connecting with others like him. As the night continued, I found myself confiding in him of my own dreams and hopes in this lifetime, along with my doubts and insecurities. He shared his life mantra with me that evening, and I’d like to share it with you…

“I want my life to be about addressing the most needed areas, helping the lowest first.”

Hearing this made me smile. Vincent was kind enough to point out that my life journey was already manifesting this purpose. And then he brought up his desire to be a marriage therapist again. I could tell this was really important to him… And in some weird way, I actually felt like he already was a therapist. We spent over an hour sitting there, counseling each other, sharing our thoughts, sparking a friendship, and appreciating each others’ existence. There is something so raw and true about connecting with an open heart.

As I gave him a hug goodbye and got into my car to drive-off, I looked over at Vincent again. He looked at me, smiling this time, and I said “I know our paths will cross again Vincent — who knows, maybe you’ll be my marriage therapist!” Driving away was always the hardest part, and it still is in some ways. I don’t ever know if I’ll see these people again… I hold onto hope that our encounters did something good for them, the way it did good for me. So the journey continues…

Hugs,

Diana

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Beating All Odds – “Hobo Bob”

Myself, Hobo Bob, and Theresa

Myself, Hobo Bob, and Theresa

For the readers who have been following along from the beginning of my entries, you may recall the experiences I mentioned of when I was a little girl living in Honolulu. I was about 8 years-old and my parents were separated at the time. My days were spent rollerblading the streets of Waikiki and talking to people I didn’t know. I befriended a few individuals who were living on the streets, specifically one man who sat in front of the old Fun Factory by Lewers Street.

I met that man today. Over 20 years later. His name is “Hobo Bob.”

Early this morning, I was catching up with my dad and decided to swing by Ala Moana Beach Park before heading to a doctor’s appointment. Something was pulling me in that direction and as I drove up to the Waikiki Yacht Club entrance, I saw a couple sitting on the corner under their tent. They were a sign. I pulled over and parked my car along the street and slowly walked over to them.

I smiled… made eye contact… waved… and there he was, smiling back at me with his piercing blue eyes. God, he looked so familiar. He introduced himself as “Hobo Bob,” and asked for a cigarette. I apologized and said I didn’t smoke… because it was too expensive. Okay, so that’s a half-truth. I don’t smoke because I don’t like cigarettes. But he didn’t have to know that.

I took a few more steps towards him and shared that I have something else he might like. I lowered my backpack onto a dry patch of grass next to him and his partner, Theresa. Small talk. People oftentimes wonder how I manage to interact with complete strangers. I really just let them initiate by either saying hello or looking into my eyes. I’d like to think I have a pretty good sense of people if I can see their eyes. His were good. They felt familiar and comfortable. I could feel that he was good. So were hers.

I showed them one of the bracelets and explained what they were for, and one thing led to another and I told him the story about my dad who had been living on the streets for a couple of years. His eyes lit up and he said he knew who I was talking about. He seemed intrigued, surprised, and somewhat in disbelief that I was his daughter. Just to confirm that we were talking about the same person, I pulled out my phone to show him photographs of my dad. Yes. Yes. Yes. That was him.

The photograph I showed to Hobo Bob.

The photograph I showed to Hobo Bob.

Hobo Bob had interacted with my dad a few times. He always tried to give him some food, asked if he needed help… anything. The midday sun was shining so bright on Hobo Bob’s face. I could see the tears forming in his eyes and he got all quiet. Then he looked up at me and said, “It is a pleasure to meet the daughter of that man… thank you.” Another circle came together today.

We spent a lot of time talking about my dad, and I wanted to learn more about Hobo Bob’s story. It turns out he had been in and out of homelessness for nearly 30 years. He is a Vietnam veteran and is well-known in the homeless community. Shortly after learning how “connected” we were through my dad and our mutual experiences, I mentioned that I had walked these streets as a little girl and passed out change  and McDonald’s cheeseburgers to one man in particular who would always sit near the Waikiki Fun Factor and in front of McDonald’s across from the Red Lobster in Waikiki. He had a beard.

It couldn’t be… could it? 

Hobo Bob started going through his past… I could see he was struggling to sift through all the memories and faces he had seen. Thousands, hundreds of thousands, over a million faces… certainly we couldn’t remember any one specific encounter. I tossed out obscure details from my memory of that time in my life. Rollerblading. Firecrackers. Policemen in the area. The laser tag game room. Then he said something.

“Do you remember those parrots?”

Y-E-S! I remember those parrots! Those beautiful phoenix-like creatures that I could never afford to hold. There was a woman who owned a whole family of those parrots, and I remember seeing them right next to my friend who lived on the streets.

There was no other person during that time with a beard like his. And Theresa confirmed it. “He has always kept this beard.” What are the odds that I would come across the man who I reached out to over 20 years ago, and learn that he had also tried to help my dad? I can’t make this stuff up even if I tried. Somedays, I wake up and have to laugh at the incredible sense of my humor that my maker/creator has for me. I am so grateful for the never-ending synchronicity… and the constant reminder that this is what I was meant to do.

Almost two hours had passed by and I knew I had to leave to make my doctor’s appointment, so I quickly made sure to capture their portrait using the Impossible Film, and had them share one word to describe their experiences on the streets. Dicodami (“Dichotomy”). Tremendes (“Tremendous”).

Words to describe their

Words to describe their “Homeless Paradise” experience.

As we were getting ready for me to leave, Hobo Bob asked for us to take a quick photograph together. Our first selfie. He said, “Now you can show this photograph to any homeless person you walk up to.. you show them.. they know Hobo Bob and you will be protected. They can’t mess with you now.” 

I thanked him and gave him a hug. I told him I would be back… he can count on me coming back. As I drove off and looked over at them sitting just as they were when I arrived, I marveled at how beautiful life could be. These heart-to-heart moments… if there is one thing that has not changed since the first and last time I saw Hobo Bob, it’s the feeling of this raw human connection that has no end. It’s like the bridge to the divine, when every worldly “thing” strips away and we see each other’s beautiful soul. I live for this. I love for this. And I would die to protect this.

The journey continues… I’ll be back for you Hobo Bob and Theresa.

Hugs,

Diana

‘Ohana and Kaka’ako

Sam resting in a friend's makeshift shelter in Kaka'ako.

Sam resting in a friend’s makeshift shelter in Kaka’ako.

Some days my Creator/God/Universe seems to speak louder than others. Today has been one of those days. I finished my last law school examination for the semester this morning. I knew exactly where I wanted to be. Kaka’ako. Just last week, I was in Kaka’ako for a Spring Symposium on Homelessness and Policy Change, hosted by the John A. Burns School of Medicine’s Partnership for Social Justice. I was invited to speak and share my candid experiences on trying to assist my father, and the project that I have been working on. It is such a peculiar feeling driving up to a location and passing rows and rows of tents filled with children and families without homes, and then parking in front of them to walk over to an auditorium so I can speak about their social condition.

It was a privilege to be able to share our story, their story. At the same time, I knew I had to drive away that night and I wouldn’t be able to reach out to anyone. So, I’m glad that I was able to spend some time getting to know the families in Kaka’ako again.

Capturing the quiet moment before the JABSOM Spring Symposium on Homelessness and Policy Change.

Capturing the quiet moment before the JABSOM Spring Symposium on Homelessness and Policy Change.

On the drive to Kaka’ako, I thought about Mother’s Day… my mother. And I know that this blog has largely been focused on my father, but I continued to think about the woman who carried me into this world. Although I don’t have a relationship with my mother today, I know that we both love each other. I follow her advice to “do what makes me happy,” and hear her words of support and encouragement. Wherever she is today, I know that she is proud of me and, “as long as you’re happy, I am happy.”

But that doesn’t stop me from thinking about her smile, the shape of her eyes when she laughs, the way our noses crinkle the same way. My Creator/God/Universe must have known that a part of me was longing for my mother this morning because I felt her energy through a woman named “Nani.”

Nani has been sober for a number of years and is currently “in transition,” as she applies for jobs and continues her education/training for better employment opportunities. She is the “Aunty of Kaka’ako” from what I gathered. Humble, focused, caring, and somewhat of a watchdog for the kids in the area. With three children of her own, she prioritizes their education and makes damn sure that the other kids go to school, too. But she also recognizes that she can’t be a parent to all of them, and at some point, the parents need to step up and take responsibility.

My mother was actually the opposite of Nani, but Nani said something to me that really resonated with me this morning. “You are doing what your parents never did for you. You took a different path and you are prioritizing your kids. That’s what I am doing and I am not going to be here forever. By forgiving your parents and me forgiving mine, we make things pono.”

Nani and her close friend looking contemplating the best word to describe their portrait in the polaroid.

Nani and her close friend looking contemplating the best word to describe their portrait in the polaroid.

Life is about making things “pono.” I completely agree with her philosophy and approach in life. Nani’s focus and determination is infectious… even to me. She is a great example of someone who is on the streets due to economic circumstances, and intends to get a better paying job so that she can have a better living situation. In her own words, she said that Kaka’ako is a village. People do help each other out, try to maintain respect and civility, but things can get out of line just like anywhere else. She tries really hard to “keep the peace” and help the children and teenagers, so they don’t run astray. I admire her. And I know I will be seeing more of her when I go back later this week.

As I drove back home, I thought about the interconnectedness of life again. This continuous theme of cause and effect — the people in my life and how our paths cross in ways that magnifies/crystallizes the experience of living. Maybe it’s because I seek it out. Call it an encampment, an eye-sore, a public nuisance, a village, or whatever you want… but, I know that Aunty Nani sees it as family. They’re all families trying to survive.

Amazingly, I checked my inbox right before I started writing this post and received an e-mail from an ongoing supporter of my Kickstarter project. Over the past few months we exchanged a number of e-mails and he shared a bit of his own personal story and dedication for social change. I was touched when he shared that one of his daughters wanted to get a tattoo of the Hawaiian word for family (‘ohana) as a way to remember her ailing grandfather, who has since passed away. It turns out that three of his six daughters decided to get the same tattoo to honor him by.

Again… the interconnectedness and theme of family is so strong here. In the e-mail, he mentioned the part about “Lilo explaining to Stitch that ‘ohana means family and although theirs may be tiny and broken, it is still good.” This resonates with me for a number of reasons. First, because I felt the same way as a child. Second, because that quote was referenced during my Kickstarter campaign when ‘Ohana Health Plan helped to support my project. Life is so intriguing when you look for the connections and today’s experiences continue to reaffirm my path.

With the permission from my friend from Canada, here is a photograph of the tattoo that three of his daughters got together in honor of their late grandfather.

With the permission from my friend from Canada, here is a photograph of the tattoo that three of his daughters got together in honor of their late grandfather.

Thanks for reading… Looking forward to sharing more as I continue the journey.

Hugs,

Diana

First Bracelet

When asked to write one word to describe herself and her life: "Survivor."

When asked to write one word to describe herself and her life: “Survivor.”

You recognize a survivor when you see one. You recognize a fighter when you see one. – Elizabeth Edwards

Some weeks go by fast, and some really slow. This particular week has felt like an oncoming storm with new opportunities and experiences. All in good ways. I was able to reconnect with Roxy yesterday and sat down for a few minutes to input her medical information into her bracelet. It worked effortlessly and she was really happy about having the backup technology. It feels good to know that she has a safety net now. She doesn’t have to worry so much about having her stuff tossed or stolen. The bracelet is literally just one small thing, but I hope it helps.

When asked to write one word to describe herself and what it is like being a homeless woman, she shared: “Survivor.” It was perfect. Roxy has been through hell and back, and yet she still carries herself with dignity and maintains a positive outlook on life.

We talked about our lives — what’s been happening, how things are going, etc. She always seems keenly interested in how I’m doing in law school. I shared my anxiety over an upcoming mock trial for a clinic. I couldn’t help but laugh when she told me to stop hanging out with the homeless and study/prepare instead. She’s right. If I were representing her, maybe that would have made the facts of my case seem/feel more “real.”

I’m still partly in the ivory tower — I have a ladder that I like to use to escape every now and then. Camera in hand, of course. It’s a good balance.

Life is interesting, isn’t it? When I look back at this journey I recognize that it all started with a camera. I started documenting the homeless as an undergraduate student, and went to graduate school with the desire to learn more about the healthcare system so I could continue developing my project on Birth Culture. And somehow it evolved into focusing on social justice issues through the lens, then law school. I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue developing this story, and I’m amazed at how my own personal life has unfolded to bring me closer to the people I reached out to in the first place. I do believe something greater is at work here. Call it God, the Universe, Mother Nature, whatever you want…

Every day is a new day. Every day is an opportunity to grow and learn from others and ourselves. Tonight I’m thinking about how all the little things in my past led me to meeting Roxy. Believe it or not, she has actually helped me to understand some of my unresolved feelings about my own mother. What it means to love someone, but from afar because it’s the healthiest way. And I’ve been able to share what it’s like to do the same, but as the child in the relationship. We were both equally touched by our emotional exchange about the feelings of loss in letting go of those we love… and accepting that some people can stay in your heart, but not in your life.

It is a beautiful thing when perfect strangers can meet with open hearts, open minds, and simply acknowledge the other in a mutually respectful and loving way. I’m glad I can share these kinds of memories and look forward to continuing the journey.

-Diana

Today is Today, Tomorrow is Tomorrow.

Everyday is a challenge, everyday is an opportunity.

Everyday is a challenge, everyday is an opportunity.

Just a few weeks ago, I had a phone conversation with my mother-in-law about my father and his improving health. I was on my own personal Cloud Nine. She was relieved and happy for me, but also said something that I had initially taken the wrong way. There was a lot more to our conversation, and she truly supports me in every way… but, all I heard at the time was:

He is good for today.

I didn’t want to hear that he was just good for today. I wanted to hear that he would be good forever. I wanted a guarantee that he would never be on the streets again. Selfishly, I just didn’t want to hear this because I couldn’t bear the heartbreak to see him cycle back to the streets again…

My mother-in-law has watched me grow for more than half of my life, and I have usually been pretty good about not responding impulsively if I don’t agree with something. But for whatever reason, I felt incredibly jarred by those words and took it the wrong way. I felt incredibly defense at the time, but I completely understand what she meant by it now.

The best I can do is appreciate the time I have with him today. I don’t think it really quite hit me until after meeting Malia. I watched a video that she shared on YouTube of her mother, specifically one where her mother was having a good day. The contrast between our parents’ good days and bad days are startling. All I could keep hearing in my head was:

I grew up like that, I grew up like that, I grew up like that…

There are all of these connections that are forming in my life right now… old conversations that are starting to make sense, people who I have known in different capacities now crossing paths because of this project, and I’m growing deeply at a personal level because of all of it. This is far greater than just one story about my father’s personal life, and my desire to help. This is really about our community and the people in it. My mother-in-law taught me the lesson of appreciating what I have now, and reminded me that my father battles a severe mental illness, but he is good for today. And on those days when he has mental clarity, I’ll join him in sharing a laugh and taking photographs together. Everyday is a challenge, everyday is an opportunity.

I hope that by continuing to share these stories, it helps to raise awareness in our community.

Diana

Meeting Malia

I don’t even know where to begin with this post, so here it goes…

I met with a woman named Malia today. One of the attorneys working on the assisted community treatment issue thought it would be good for Malia and I to connect. We met at a coffee shop after my Torts exam and I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve received both positive and negative feedback since my personal story/the Kickstarter was shown on KITV; but have learned to accept the good with the bad.

This meeting was good, really good. The kind of good that keeps you holding onto your belief in the greater purpose in life. She walked towards me with a huge smile on her face, radiating genuine positive energy and it was like we were friends in no time. It’s interesting to meet someone who already knows you at your most vulnerable level. There’s nothing to hide, there’s no need to try to be the best version of yourself to impress anyone (it’s not an interview), you’re just you. I was just me, and it felt like she was too.

We instantly shared a little more of our backstory, and I began to see the common thread weaving through us. We both have a loved one who suffers from schizophrenia, and have a desire to raise awareness. We both understand that society could probably use a little schooling as far as the complexity of this disease, and specifically how it relates to homelessness in Hawai`i.

A place to drive awareness of anosognosia and provide resources for caregivers of loved ones who refuse treatment.

A place to drive awareness of anosognosia and provide resources for caregivers of loved ones who refuse treatment.

I was truly touched by her inner strength. I understand the smiles that form on our faces and hearts are especially genuine because we’ve had to deal with a level of pain and suffering that many don’t understand. Malia’s mother has schizophrenia and due to anosognosia, refuses treatment and continues to get worse. 

Anosognosia is damage to the brain that prevents a person from recognizing their own illness.  It is a common symptom in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and one of the biggest reasons why people who need treatment,refuse treatment, thus creating a very challenging and frustrating situation for caregivers and family members.

She has shared her struggle to save her mother from this disease, and created a website for caregivers to get assistance. This resource is invaluable for the families who are experiencing the same challenges as Malia and I. I am so glad I met her, and look forward to continuing to grow our friendship and common goal in helping to educate our community.

You can check out her website/resource: http://www.anosognosiacare.org

Good things are happening. I can feel it. And I’m glad that there are other people out there like Malia who are willing to share their story to help raise awareness.

Diana

KITV Interview – 12/7/14

Dedy and Kai being filmed by KITV.

Dedy and Kai being filmed by KITV.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light, despite all of the darkness.” – Desmond Tutu

I had the opportunity to interview with KITV a couple of days ago, and was initially hesitant about doing it because of how personally sensitive this topic is to me. But I knew that the only way their stories would get exposure is if I’m willing to put myself out there with them. I hope that the viewers can see what Dedy and I share in common as human beings, as opposed to setting us apart because he lives on the streets and I don’t.

I was really touched by Dedy’s willingness to share his thoughts and feelings about life on the streets, as well as his view on the project itself. I felt a sense of pride as I listened to his responses to the reporter’s questions — he finally had his opportunity to share his story. We were both a little nervous, and we talked about it before the reporter arrived. He was actually reassuring me about the project, and that the interview would be good. It was heartwarming.

We spent an hour just sitting, chatting, and I even managed to study a little for my final exams. I think it really does shake the senses for some people to see me sitting there next to him, with a law textbook propped open and scribbling around in a notebook; while he’s listening to the Backstreet Boys and eating a burger. As we talked more about his life, I asked him about his hopes and dreams. What were they?

Dedy and Kai share a moment before their interview with KITV.

Dedy and Kai share a moment before their interview with KITV.

Dedy had wanted to be a firefighter growing up. His dream was to be in a helping profession.

Unfortunately, his circumstances during his younger years posed certain challenges and he never graduated from high school. Some would say it was partly because of his life choices, and partly because of circumstances beyond his control. Regardless of the past, I asked him what he looks forward to in the life that he has today. He wants to continue working and would like to get a better job to afford a small studio. I asked if he would consider going to a community college if he were to get a GED, and he was definitely open to those kinds of options.

I smiled and immediately told him “You can do it!” I know it’s possible. I shared my personal story with Dedy, about my challenges and experiences with homelessness. I told him that I believed in him, that if he wanted to get his GED, he could do it. There are stories out there of people who were homeless and went on to get an education. I could see the sparkle in his eyes and shared a smile in knowing that anything is possible, and as long as we’re alive there is still an opportunity to turn things around or go down a better path.

I really hope that the project gets funded so I can have his opportunity to continue humanizing homelessness in Hawai`i, and to give them an option in safeguarding their IDs and important documents. Until then, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed and anxiously waiting to see what airs this Sunday morning and evening on KITV.

Diana

Meeting My Father

My father entering a Buddhist temple.

My father entering a Buddhist temple.

I feel like I just met my father for the first time today. I had gotten a phone call from an unknown number, and decided to pick it up. I’m so glad I did. He asked if I was available this morning to have coffee and catch up. I ran straight out of the house.

Our meeting was truly a miracle. We met in the same area where he was homeless not so long ago — the same street where he once owned a photography studio, and right down the road from my last workplace. As I pulled up into the parking lot, I saw my father’s figure and my heart nearly stopped. He looked better than I had expected, and so different from the last image I had of him in the hospital. I had been waiting for the right time to meet him, waiting for him to reach out when he was ready.

He smiled at me.

I jumped out of the car and immediately ran towards him. I could not believe this was happening. We must have hugged for a couple of minutes. It felt so good to see him so healthy, and standing so tall again. The emotions were overwhelming as we collected ourselves, and found a place to sit to talk. He had gone through so much, and I didn’t want to overload him with a lot of questions so I let him do most of the talking.

The first digital photograph my father has ever taken of me.

Smiling at my father.

His words were so touching, and revealed that he really was listening to me all those days and nights I went to visit him. He remembered that I had visited him after my wedding ceremony, and mentioned how glad he was to be able to see me that night. He continued and described his experiences living on the streets. I was amazed at how familiar he was of other homeless individuals in the area, especially with his statement that “homelessness should not be criminalized.”He explained that many of those who are homeless in the area are just mentally ill, and desperately need to take their medication and receive training for employment.

It was truly as if I had just met the person under the illness. My father explained that he had been battling some serious issues since 1990, and our relationship had been impacted because of it. For over 20 years of my life I never had this conversation with him. He wasn’t mentally capable… it was almost as if his mind cycled through the same memories and thoughts, and none of our conversations really went anywhere — he was a wall for most of my life.

This was all so new to me to have a reciprocal conversation with such depth and mutual understanding. As we opened ourselves to each other, I shared that I had started a photo project on the homeless and was bracing myself to hear disapproval. Instead, what I heard amazed me again. His response, “You better finish it.” I chuckled at the thought of my Kickstarter, and how ironic it is that “finishing it” depends on the collective effort of those who believe and care about this. And to be honest, I believe in miracles more than ever now. I know that if it’s meant to be funded, it will be.

My father paying his respects to his late mother.

My father paying his respects to his late mother.

My father is a standing, living, breathing testament in my life that good things can happen. I grew up never knowing this man, and was so jolted by the fact that I had always gravitated towards the homeless and to have it hit so close to home. All I could hear in my head was: What are you going to? What are you going to do? What are you going to do? I’m so glad I didn’t give up on hope, even during those darkest days where I felt like my purpose had been shattered. I’m so grateful for the blessings in disguise, that someone called the police when my father nearly died in the streets. There is so much more to life if we hold onto the belief that we can make good out of our most painful experiences in life.

I know that his well-being is also in his own hands, and that I cannot control his actions even though I want to believe that he will never find himself at rock bottom again. He made a choice to live while in that hospital, and I am so grateful for that. I know that it concerns my friends and family who have had to watch me quietly suffer through the painful experience of not being able to help him when he didn’t want it. I still remember how he would change his mind in receiving help, I still remember how he didn’t recognize me that first day I came back from DC. But, to have an opportunity to even share a glimpse of our lives is better than none. To have come so close in watching his body fail on the sidewalks of Honolulu, and then to see his body regain life to the way it has is a miracle in itself. I want him to continue doing better for himself and for others. And I don’t mind having hope in that.

My father shares some of the photographs he had held onto.

My father shares some of the photographs he had held onto.

He has his second chance, and so do I. I know we have this beautiful gift of an opportunity to get to know each other and to share the life we have.

Our parting conversation was sort of a “what’s next” topic for him. He believes in the value of working, and explained that it keeps him active and living a life with more purpose. For now, he explained that he needs more time to regain his strength and get some things in order before moving forward. On a personal note, I mentioned the possibility of him taking photographs again. Secretly, I am planning to find him a used DSLR as a Christmas present. I shared in passing how it would be wonderful if my Kickstarter were funded, we could also show his photographs in a gallery… maybe sell his prints again. For now, we are taking it one day at a time and I’m grateful that whatever happens with this Kickstarter, I have my father and an opportunity to have a relationship of a lifetime.

Photograph of my father taken in August 2014.

Photograph of my father taken in August 2014.

Second Wave

"I wish people wouldn't judge us the wrong way. We are all equal, we are all human." - Dedy and Kai

“I wish people wouldn’t judge us the wrong way. We are all equal, we are all human.” – Dedy and Kai

I went back on-air with Beth-Ann Kozlovich yesterday to share the epilogue to my personal story. Sharing the epilogue was not nearly as emotional as the first interview in August, and I felt a lot better about sharing the good news.

My closest friends and family heard the hesitation in my voice as I described my dad’s journey resurfacing into his new reality. The truth is, I haven’t seen him since I visited him at the hospital. I have been in contact with family members regarding his recovery, and was told that he wanted to regain his physical health before seeing me again. I can understand given that his body had deteriorated, and was battling numerous infections. He just wants to be healthy again.

I am looking forward to seeing him soon, and hope to share a little bit about the project. I’m not sure how he will react or respond, but I know that he will appreciate the photographs and conversations I recorded. I’m so grateful that he is alive and getting better, and can only pray that our relationship will continue to grow in this lifetime. One day at a time… that’s what I keep reminding myself anyway.

I started walking the streets again after the interview and met Dedy, a 35 year-old man originally from Jakarta, Indonesia. He had moved to Hawai`i when he was about 7 years-old with his adoptive parents and experienced a life journey in the past 10 years. His dog, Kai, was sitting on his lap when I approached them.

My friends and family oftentimes wonder how I manage to get to know people who are living on the streets. It’s really no different than walking up to a complete stranger at a coffee shop, and asking about their new iPhone. I just happened to ask about Dedy’s dog, and the cute little pin he was wearing around his collar — a Honolulu Police Department pin.

Dedy and his adoptive mother were evicted sometime in 2000-2001 after his adoptive father passed away. With very little resources on hand, he found himself bouncing between friends’ houses, and then on the streets. He found his dog, Kai, about three years ago near Waikiki and decided to forgo his application to the shelters so he could keep Kai. He described his life living on the streets, and the feelings of continuous judgment he experiences because of stereotypes surrounding the homeless. Dedy, along with many others in the area, has a small part-time job working as a janitor and uses his income for basic necessities like food and clothing.

As we sat in a corner of a storefront watching pedestrians pass by, Dedy’s poignant words reminded me of a conversation I recently had with Randy a few days before:

“I wish people would stop judging us the wrong way. We are all equal, we are all human. Just because one homeless person does something bad, it doesn’t mean that we’re all the same.”

During this holiday season, my heart and mind turns to those who are not as fortunate. I know that a camera can’t solve the world’s problems, and it rarely ever changes a person; but I hope that I can continue on this path to share the voices of these individuals. Happy Holidays, and thanks for reading!

Diana

 

The Argument

On the street

When we talk to God, we’re praying. When God talks to us, we’re schizophrenic.

I got off of work earlier than usual yesterday so I could visit the local Goodwill for some rain gear for my father. I felt pretty proud of myself for finding a yellow rain slicker — the ones you see those guys on the Discovery Channel wearing on their crabbing adventures. I also picked up another t-shirt, hoping he would finally agree to change his clothes. I can’t even count the number of times I have tried to get him to accept clothing, and consider going to a shelter. Sometimes I walk away with a sense of defeat, other times I find myself feeling completely disconnected, and in this most recent encounter I walked away feeling a mix of both. I know that I care. I know that I love him, but sometimes I wonder if it will ever be enough to change his circumstances. I wonder if it will ever change him.

I had been driving around in circles looking for him, and finally pulled over to continue my search on foot. While walking around the block, I came across a mother and her sleeping daughter huddled against a storefront. The little girl was about 4 years-old, and her mother began to share parts of her life story with me. Within the next half an hour we had a conversation about her losing Section 8 housing, her husband accusing her of sleeping with his brother, and how they preferred to live on the streets because the shelters were dirty and unsafe. I encouraged her to seek shelter from the hurricane this weekend. She had agreed that it was worth looking into, at least for this weekend. As I got up to leave, she had noticed the jacket in my Goodwill bag and asked why I was carrying it around. I shared that I was on the street looking for my father. I mentioned that he barely had any clothes, and I was concerned about the rain tearing up what little he had.

She seemed to know who I was describing because her immediate response was, “THAT’S your dad?”

Her eyes averted away from mine as I nodded and acknowledged that this man was my father. Yes, he is probably one of the “worst” out there… and yes, I am his daughter. I found it slightly ironic that this homeless woman was now feeling sorry for me. I guess it just shows you how much we all have in common, how interconnected we really are.

I continued to search for him by foot for another half an hour, and it seemed like I wasn’t going to find him. Sometimes that’s how it works. I learned quickly that I couldn’t keep my hopes up or have any expectations because those were the days when my heart would sit heaviest. Somehow, I have managed to train myself to love him from a distance and protect my heart from the disappointment of having to walk away without any “results” or “change.”

As I got back into the car and started to drive away, I threw a little prayer out into the world that if I’m not meant to see him today, that he will be safe from the hurricane. Within 30 seconds of driving on the main road, I saw my father’s figure from a distance. As I drove closer I noticed that he was arguing with someone… someone I couldn’t see, but someone who appeared to be very real in his world. He was waving his arm around, pointing at the space in the front of him with the same demeanor I witnessed as a child.

He was angry. He was having an argument.

I pulled over into the nearest parking lot, and sat in the car to gather my thoughts and feelings. I usually don’t feel so apprehensive about approaching my father, but this time I felt uncomfortable because he appeared to be fighting someone. Would he snap out of it? Would he attack me? I just wasn’t sure. I sat in the car for a few more minutes and decided I needed to get him this jacket.

I slowly walked over to him and he seemed to recognize me. This was a good sign. I smiled at him, and asked how he was doing. He didn’t respond, but I could see he was processing the sight of me again. I extended the jacket to him and tried to explain that we were expecting a big storm, and that he may need the jacket. He said he didn’t want it, and that it was “bad.” I tried to explain to him that it wasn’t bad, and that it was a form of my love for him… that it was from my heart, so it’s not bad. He shook his head and said he didn’t want it, and that I should keep it. I felt desperate for him to understand me… to accept this shred of protection. He refused just as he always does, and slowly rolled back into his world of argument. I could see that I was losing him again. Second by second, his head began the rotation of small circles. Little circles that coaxed him into a different reality, a different world…

This is my memory of yesterday. I had to drive away feeling defeated and disconnected again. I’m grateful that this hurricane missed our islands. Until another day… this is what I have to share.