“Dreamt of a doorway / That opened to everything / And I’m reaching towards it / Drifting backwards / Drawing the curtains / Windows inside my head / Maybe I’m only making mirrors.”
– Gotye’s “Making Mirrors” (Making Mirrors; 2011)
It sounds hyperbolic, but it’s true: I woke up Easter morning feeling reborn. After a weekend at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua for the 20th annual Celebration of the Arts, I was transformed. Oh, what an event! What an uncommon gem! Every Easter for two decades running–in just a few sweet, powerful days–The Celebration nurtures fledgling flight in a Phoenix of culture that’s colloquially called Hawaiian (1). What a privilege to have witnessed it. More humbling, what a gift to have been a part of it.
Because experiences like The Celebration can’t help but be reflected upon with a grateful heart, I’d be remiss to not first express my utmost mahalo to Clifford Nae‘ole, his ‘ohana, the exemplary team at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, and all of the event’s organizers and cultural advisors–namely (at the apologetic risk of missing many), Kumu Hula Hokuani Holt, Kahu Kapi‘ioho‘okalani Lyons Naone, Kumu Ramsay Taum and Kupuna Sam Kahai Ka‘ai. Also, my sincere thanks to every artist, musician, scientiest and practitioner who give life to the The Celebration, year after year. Such generosity and vision. And of course, my gratitude to the guests who came (as I did) to be fascinated by fine art and aloha at its quintessence. Mahalo, everyone. And mahalo ke akua.
My manini column’s no adequate place to write about my time at The Celebration, but it’s a start to what will surely be regular reference. For anyone of kanaka maoli blood or spirit, The Celebration affords a unique chance to talk story with our race’s most venerable teachers. For me, the quality of those discussions were like rain-soaked crepuscular rays upon seedlings of desirous inquery into what it means to be Hawaiian in 2012 and beyond (assuming it matters at all). That’s important to me for no other reason than my belief that, if for any purpose, we exist to explore where we came from and where everyone can go from here. And I feel damned lucky that a wretch like me is graced with getting to call myself human, let alone something as delightful as “Hawaiian.”
From that, The Celebration crystallized in me the idea that a living culture requires constant participation and active discourse. And gosh it felt good to do that while sitting in the lap of Kapalua luxury–the oh-so fancy Ritz overrun by proud brown bodies all laughing, creating and philosophizing about our home and history. I could get used to that. And why not, right? Days were made full with lectures and activities (almost all free and open to the public), beginning with ceremonial plunges into the Kapalua surf at dawn, ancient oli (chants) and cultural protocol. Nights of intelligent, playful conversation were fueled by rich ethnic food and libation. This, with rainstorms, sunshine and chic accomodations, infused the weekend with a rainbow of aural ambience: sharp crimson, diffused amber, and stone-meets-sky hues.
But later I realized that of all this great, gorgeous Hawaiian stuff, the best thing about The Celebration doesn’t happen at the event at all. Rather, the best thing’s in how The Celebration translates afterward; how it augments your life forever and for the better.
See, after all that, I was hardly eager to return to the MauiTime deadline grind and the hoarder’s squalor I call home and office. The Celebration had just filled my evermore-longing heart so much that I was sure it’d soon burst. So what could I do? Go to the grocery store? The office? Straight to bed? No. What I needed was to weep and purge in the churning river water of ‘Iao Valley–a sacred place that I’ve frequented my whole life and that’s constantly calling.
So on the way home from the Westside, though my old Toyo’s gas gauge dipped well below E, I detoured to the cool valley. I like seeing people enjoying themselves in the places I love and happily that day, the park was full of tourists and locals alike. It was Easter, after all. And for me, it was the 15-year anniversary of my Christian baptism there. But because my thinking’s evolved since I was 11, it seemed appropriate that I return to that exact baptismal pool for another dip. To undo and redo. To affirm. To give thanks…
On the way back to my car I passed another, where two women were packing their things, about to drive away. One was wearing a wool cap, from under which peeked the unmistakable wisps of a chemo-thinned hairline. Ah, a cancer sister! I always feel a pang to connect when I see someone else who’s in the thick of their battle, still reaching for the world now better-knowing its worth.
But I walked by silently, as I always do, embarrassed. What would I say to her even if I had the courage? Who am I to say anything at all?
Just then, that rainbow aural rush came again, as if sweeping down the valley’s ridges on a winged, mercurial mist. A confidence that I did not have before The Celebration turned my heels back toward the young woman in the wool cap.
See, The Celebration also taught me that being Hawaiian doesn’t stop with the discussion or doing of expressly Hawaiian things. It means letting the spirit of those things reflect in every aspect of our lives. So with that woman, in that moment, the only way I knew how to expess aloha was to attempt to share how, for me, blood cancer had been a gift. An adventure. A reckoning. An intriguing, loving time to be cherished. Look, I don’t remember exactly what I said other than it was awkward and fumbling. And I can’t presume it meant anything to her, though it meant something to me. But I tried to tell her I was eager for her. I tried to tell her I was proud of her apparent spunk, and for her having sought out a place like ‘Iao Valley.
She then told me she’d come there to shave her head, on Easter, in the afternoon light of ‘Iao…
I’d never until then been more grateful to smile with a stranger.
* * *
(1) In King Kalakaua’s baroque 1888 version of “The Legend of the Iron Knife,” the first “most disasterous” attempt to unite the Hawaiian Islands “occured in about A.D. 1260” (by an ambitious chief named Kalaunuiohua who possessed a samurai sword from a Japanese shipwreck). Mind you, Captain Cook only turned up in 1778; and King Kamehameha I conqured in 1810. Sure, there’s hot debate over exactly from where and how long ago B.C. humans inhabited Hawaii–that’s half the fun! And anyway it’s loads of time however you look at it. The point I’m trying to preface is one that Uncle Sam illuminated when talking story at The Celebration: we’ve only been calling ourselves “Hawaiians” for 202 years. Fun stuff to think about, right?