For 23 years I was a Monk of New Skete, the monastery being on the outskirts of Cambridge, New York, right across the border from Bennington, Vermont. We frequently had visitors from Russia who were passing through the area. One woman, who came from a long-established aristocratic lineage, told us: “First they took away our servants. Then they took away our cattle, our jewels and finally our estate. After all of that loss we were left wondering: Who are we now?”
I identified with her narrative because of the long-ago loss of Grandpa and Grandma’s house in Brooklyn, the house where Mom grew up. As a child when I visited them I slept in Mom’s girlhood bedroom on the second floor, at the back of the house. From her window I could look down upon the gigantic old apple tree that took up much of the yard. In the front was a very tall Blue Spruce whose branches hung down, forming a tent from within which I could spy on people passing by. Being young I did not realize that Grandma had sold the house after Grandpa’s death until we went to visit my two Aunts who lived next door and saw the carnage wrought by the new owners upon “our” home: the apple tree was gone, the Blue Spruce was gone, new windows… like pimples, in my view… had erupted where they had never been before. My sense of loss was profound, even bordering on violation!
So I cannot help but identify with the Hawaiian experience of the loss of their treasured Monarchy. I suspect that some Hawaiians view this event not so much as loss, but as a theft, the result of American businessmen in Hawaii who viewed themselves as the adults and the Hawaiians as the children who needed to be made to live, think and believe “correctly.” And, to add insult to injury, after the loss of the Monarchy these same businessmen manipulated the transition of Hawaii from the status of a Sovereign Nation to that of a “Territory” of another Nation, and eventually to that of a State within the American Union. Having lost their Sovereign, many Hawaiians then lost a sense of themselves.
Like the loss of the Monarchy for the Hawaiians I had no say in the sale of our Brooklyn home. I grieved, but I also had to adjust to that loss since Life did not care that I didn’t like what had happened. Currently, I live right outside of Savannah, GA, a northerner transplanted onto a Southern body. Down here there are a fair number of people who still refer to the Civil War as “That Unpleasantness,” or (if they refuse to adjust to the outcome of that war) more pointedly as “The War of Northern Aggression.” For people here in the South there is definitely an aggrieved sense of loss, much like that experienced by some Hawaiians today who want the Monarchy restored and for things to go back to being as they were before the overthrow. The problem is, of course, that Life is lived forwards, and not backwards and there is no returning to exactly how things were before they changed. I had to learn to live with the loss of our Brooklyn home. As we age Life takes things away from us… an apple tree, hair, our waistline, those whom we love… and, rather than becoming immobilized by mourning what has been lost, we learn to adjust… because adjust we must!
Hawaiians may have lost their Monarchy, but they still possess those values which make them most essentially who they are: The Hawaiian people. Those values are Aloha, Ohana, Kuleana, Pono, love of Aina, and many others. When loss of hair or of homeland brings up the question of “Who am I now?” the answer becomes: “I am those values that I live right now.” Even though The Throne is empty, so long as Hawaiians live Hawaiian values, and pass those values on to younger Hawaiians… no one can take them away from themselves!