“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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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.

My Journal, 4.26.2013

The family and I are getting ready to run a few errands this morning, but I wanted to quickly share an entry I came across last night. Everyday, I want to post something to remind myself why I am doing this Kickstarter project, and why it is so important to get it funded.

Here it goes.

IMG_5594

 

… I can’t believe I’m actually going to be in DC with our Congresswoman. I’ve always wanted to make a difference and leave my mark on this world to help others… to have my voice and story told, but as life goes on I realize that there are so many others who have equally powerful, and amazing stories… commoners, powerful people, the rich, the famous, the poor… I really just enjoying getting to know people and our world.

I feel exhausted right now. There has been a lot going on in my life with my dad, my grandma, the news of my award, my family, school, and work. I think I really just need a day to sleep it off and gather my thoughts.

I guess it starts with doing one thing first and going from there. I can’t believe I have to do everything by May 15. It’s truly amazing…

4-26-13

Things are feeling a bit crazy these days. I’m getting ready to finish my first year of law school, and a lot is happening a usual. I saw my dad again today, and he wasn’t looking so good. He doesn’t want to go see a doctor and refuses to take his medication. It is a shame… all I can do is keep trying to ask. I hear that Halmoni (Grandma) is not doing so well. She has lost considerable weight and isn’t able to get out of bed. She’s really weak. My dad’s lease… or her lease… will be expiring, and the landlord isn’t going to rent out to her. I believe she received 45 days notice, but now the landlord isn’t giving him 45 days. They’re requiring that he leaves by the first of the month. That’s in 4-5 days.. I really don’t know what options he has.

The boys are doing really well. They have their soccer games tomorrow. It feels like there’s this never-ending list of things to do… It makes me feel better to write them out, so here it goes:

…..