We have a dear friend who is a native Quechua Indian from Ecuador. Quite some time ago now, he asked in his delightful English via Spanish accent: “Do you know how you know that you are getting old?” And then he answered himself: “When you have a story for everything.”
As if I had any doubt in the matter, Jose nailed it.
Here is still another of my small stories with a simple message.
‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani and I took a reprieve from one month living in the tent last week. We accepted a friend’s hospitality; we were guests for a couple days in a lovely home nestled among lush green hills on Kaua’i. Our host was at work. Before he stepped out the door, he generously shouted: “Help your selves to anything in the fridge or freezer.”
Several hours later, ‘Iokepa and I were hungry. I heated a hot dog and baked beans; ‘Iokepa fried up a couple frozen salmon patties. We offered out gratitude.
I looked across the table at my Native Hawaiian husband and he looked deeply contemplative – perhaps even sad. I asked him why.
He answered: “I was hungry and I love salmon. I am thinking about this salmon patty–and your hotdog and beans–the convenience. And I tell myself, ‘This convenience – it has come at a huge cost.'”
I asked: “What’s the cost?”
‘Iokepa answered quickly: “Dependency…shame. At this moment, I can’t even feel gratitude.
“Shame because it is all that I know. It is so removed. I couldn’t tell you what plant I could or could not eat…which berries… And I am not just feeling my own shame – it’s the larger shame of my people and what has been removed from us.”
This small story with a simple message shifts locale.
I am reminded. I grew up a Jewish suburban woman outside of Baltimore. I did no gardening, no household or car repair, no carpentry – and frankly, very little cleaning. For each of these things in my comfortable childhood, we hired other people. Perhaps, my adult life can be best measured in the ways I determined to defy both gender and class expectation: I learned to lift a hammer, clean a toilet, and grow my own food.
I became painfully aware that the trade-off for my considerable ease was disempowerment – the things I didn’t know how to do. Just stand over there little lady.
So ‘Iokepa was right in both his small personal way – and in his larger cultural one as well. His people – once the healthiest people on the planet – suffer an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, addiction and more. They are addicted as well to the American welfare system. This proud, self-sufficient nation with a people deeply committed to the stewardship of their land has been unwillingly reduced to near-total dependency on the whims of an occupying nation. These adept fishermen – these men and women who knew the subtleties of growing a field of 500 different varieties of kalo for food and medicine – are now the highest consumers on the planet of canned Spam.
And then there are our American people – born into the most affluent nation on earth. We suffer epidemics of cancer, heart disease and more. We too have been sold a bill of goods – the great god convenience. We live inactive half-lives – traded to those who sell us ease. We have become simply consumers of the choices that others (in distant boardrooms) choose for us. We no longer know the sheer pleasure of experiencing the relation between the labor of our hands, backs, or minds and that which we use to live.
Don’t mistake my words here. This small story is about far more than food and physical well-being. It is about confidence – our actual competence – and about the simple observation that we have chosen to give those precious possessions away.
We are dependent on distant manipulators in almost every way you can name or consider, and when we wake up, we know it. We are collectively shamed because of what we’ve surrendered. But that too can change. We have that power.