There are mornings when waking up is difficult, when the fog of a dream refuses to let go.
But this morning was not like that. This morning my eyes snapped open and one word echoed over and over in my mind: TONIGHT!
Because tonight, the documentary Sons of Halawa will make its national television debut on PBS (World Channel) as part of the pre-release broadcast of their program Pacific Heartbeat.
The film shares the story of my teacher, ‘Anakala Pilipo Solatorio—a revered Hawaiian elder from the island of Molokai, and his quest to find a way to perpetuate the traditions and culture of his ancestors. My own story is part of this documentary, as well. I am so lucky to be one of the carriers of this amazing legacy and one of the newest links in a long chain of teachers.
A few months ago, I got a phone call from June. “Braddah, do you think we could find a way to show the documentary here in Chicago?” I didn’t need any time to think about it. The answer was a clear and resounding YES! And through a lot of emails and phone conversations and the help of many supportive hands, a screening of the film was arranged for this past Saturday evening at the Gene Siskel Film Center as part of the Asian American Showcase and the Foundation for Asian American Independent Media. (The screening was sold-out! A Hawaiian movie in Chicago had enough audience tofill a theater!)
After the film, there was a short Q&A with the audience. June initiated the discussion with a tough question: What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned from working with your teacher on Molokai for the last eight years?
An answer came to mind right away: the practice of staying present. Because I wasn’t born in Hawai’i or raised within the Hawaiian culture, everything is still so new to me. I can’t afford to be lost in thoughts about the past or the future while I’m working with him. I need to be present with exactly what it in front of me. My time there is short, concentrated, intense. And as my teacher gets older, he reminds that our time together is incredibly precious. So I have to let go. I have to simply be there, just where I am, with things just as they are. For me to learn while I’m on Molokai, I need to be open and live the moment as it is.
This practice of staying present is intense! It’s hard to stay in the moment. I struggle to not get tangled up in thoughts of “I should have done this…” or “Someday I will…” And coming back to the present moment can be exhausting! But the most beautiful thing about this practice is that my teacher offers me the same presence. He’s right there with me, not judging me for things I’d done in the past or dreaming about the teacher I will be as I mature in my studies. He gives me that same presence. And it makes our time together priceless.
When I come to Chicago to play and sing for June’s hula school, I stay with June and Roshi in their home. At their table, Roshi and I have had many discussions about my Hawaiian studies with my teacher and he’s pointed out that they are so similar to that of Zen monastic. And I know I’ve heard him talk about the practice of presence, of engaging with what’s right in front of us. The Zen way. The Hawaiian way. Parallel practices, for sure.
It’s such an honor to be on this path. It’s changed the course of my life. And now there is film that allows my teacher’s story to be seen by so many people! My dream is that it will inspire people celebrate the rich traditions and cultures of their families. To discuss their own family’s legacy and how it will continue for future generations. And maybe it will help us all to be a bit more present with what is right in front of us.
I am so grateful for the kindness and generosity of the Chicago ‘ohana/family. You all make me feel like this city is home, too. Mahalo for that.
Sons of Halawa is a film by e by Matt Yamashita of Quazifilms Hawaii. (www.quazifilms.com)
It will be airing on PBS as part of the program Pacific Heartbeat Season 5.
Monday, April 11th at 7:00 pm on WWTW Create/World
Tuesday, April 12th at 12:00 am on WWTW Create/World
Sunday, April 17th at 3:00 am on WWTW Create/World
Sunday, May 29th at 8:00 am on WWTW Prime