Easter Sunday I walked Kapa`a Coastal Path pushing my mom in her wheelchair with three dogs in tow: one hound afraid of the wheels, a terrier fiending after feral chickens and our newest addition to the pack, a timid 8 year-old Chihuahua mix, who I am pretty sure, still wonders how she landed in this carnival.
We were quite a sight I imagine. One mother ushered her two youngsters to the far side of the path as we approached. Cyclists zipped up from behind without so much as an “on your left” to warn of their proximity. And most walkers, on their two sturdy legs, passed without so much as a tip of the chin.
In 12 years living on the Eastside, this was my first experience being overtly avoided in a crowd. At first I thought people were frightened by the spectacle of activity. But once the dogs settled into a rhythm with the wheels on the chair, I thought we looked pretty civilized.
We began at the pool and walked all the way to the bathrooms at north Kealia. I admit I may have been putting off a funky vibe; Mom had moved in two weeks before and I was still adjusting to all the change. The recreational path, I’ve discovered, is one of the few places on the island that’s easy access to the outdoors for a person confined to a chair.
I’d heard that people with disabilities experience a certain discrimination by omission, but this was my first time feeling it.
After an hour I conducted an experiment. I’d literally smile at people from a distance just to see if they’d make eye contact. Now I know this isn’t very scientific, but my findings were that over 75 percent averted their eyes.
Then there was one – one who shattered, no, annihilated my study. It was Maka Herrod. I recognized him immediately, having seen him perform hula on stage during the Mokihana Festival.
He unabashedly swept toward us, veering from his straight trajectory, to zero in on mom. Coming down to his knee to greet her, he said, “Whew, I need to get in shape.”
We all laughed. He offered to trade places with her and we quickly exchanged gratitude for the beautiful day. When we parted he said, “aloha,” and it was then I realized, yes, that was aloha – a spark of connection as real as the sulphur of a match igniting when struck.
A word I hear dozens of times a week, suddenly I heard anew. “Aloha” had become suspect, the same way words like “magical” or ‘amazing” lose their meaning from misuse. To feel it in a pure form was a relief.
Maka was nominated, then chosen in January by our publication to receive an Aloha Spirit Award for Kupuna Kane; an honor he humbly tried to reject on the grounds of knowing many kupuna he felt were more worthy.
I hope this note dispels any notion he still holds around worthiness.