“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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‘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