I find gratitude a perfect antidote for what ails me. Thanks giving. If I can remember to count some real blessings, positive energies are marshaled that eventually turn the corner on a dark situation.
The problem might still be there, but a little corner of peace has entered my heart and made it easier to bear.
I thought of this recently when I viewed Ka 'Ohana o Kalaupapa's touching exhibit evoking the relationship between the people of the leprosy settlement on Molokai and Hawaii's royal family. (It ends Dec. 6 at the University of Hawaii Maui College.)
The people exiled beginning in 1866 endured deprivations beyond our ability to fathom, but through it all, the cruel disease and even more bitter separation from loved ones, they found rays of joy and reason to hope.
Visits and communications from their monarchs were lifelines of mercy in a place where, in 1873, storm winds blew two dozen houses flat to the ground and damaged 50 more so nothing was left but the frames.
"It is a Melencolly sight to see the poor Sick with Sunken Eyes look at you and when asked how they fare, reply 'We're hungry,'" Peter Young Kaeo, a cousin of Queen Emma's, wrote to her. He added, "On the 15th of last Month two men died from Hunger . . . the man Kealohi died on the 23rd and 'a little poi' were his dieing words."
It breaks your heart. But the patients possessed courage and agency, the ability to act on one's own behalf even in dire circumstances, the quality that mental health professionals tell us is the key to surviving trauma.
In 1868, William Humphries Uwelealea, a former representative to the Legislature, wrote a letter to Ka Nupepa Kuakoa on behalf of the congregation of Siloama, requesting financial assistance in building a church. They had raised $125.50 from the 25 cents extra allowed per month for extras. "We have saved it bit by bit, though often hungering."
Thus, the creation of something to live for.
Queen Kapi'olani went to the settlement for the second time in 1884, and visited the people firsthand. "The Queen greeted the occupants 'Aloha,' as she entered the house or hut and the Queen's greeting returned in kind 'aloha,' with sobs. She would ask the state of their health and how they fared?" wrote the superintendent.
The inevitable reply: "Pilikia (hardship, suffering)." "The Queen seeing with her own eyes the poverty, squalor, and squalid bare conditions of the homes of some of her people, was visibly affected." "Kaumaha nohoi!" (deep sorrow) was her only comment when she withdrew.
Kapi'olani read letters and petitions from the patients and collected gifts for them. "Last Monday, I gathered the sick of Kalaupapa and the names were on each packet and all received with great joy the aloha-gift from the Queen," Father Damien wrote to her in 1884. "Yesterday (Wednesday) we did the same thing at Kalawao."
In 1883, Kalakaua and Kapi'olani sent an emissary to the United States in search of sisters to work with them on the leprosy crisis. There was only one positive response out of 50, Mother Marianne Cope, provincial of the Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse, N.Y.
She and the sisters of her order turned the Kaka'ako hospital in Honolulu into a sanitary, modern place of comfort where people received the latest treatments. The king and queen visited frequently.
A clear trend emerged in 1884 to keep patients there instead of sending them to Molokai. Serious thought was given to establishing hospitals on each island. But after the Bayonet Revolution of 1887, in which power was stripped from the king and given to the Cabinet and Legislature, patients were exiled in earnest again under the new haole government despite medical evidence that it was not necessary.
Lili'uokalani visited Kalaupapa in 1891 after she became queen, continuing the link of royal caring. In 1893, six months after the overthrow, J.P. Miau, Jno. A. Kamanu, and Josiah Haole wrote to her requesting a Hawaiian flag - now a symbol of protest - to go on a staff they had erected.
"Your Majesty, . . . perhaps it is in keeping with your loving and generous heart, to help us, being but the dirt of your common folk who have been isolated and who live on this island of incomparable agony."
"Your fond affection, dear Queen, for your people," wrote young David Kahoeka of Kalawao in a beautiful poem, "Is a source of light which is constant and never-fading."
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.