Hilo Closeness

Letting Go for Closeness
By guest blogger, Pua H.

“When someone says she’s from Hilo, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?”

I posed that loaded question to a good friend who lives in Honolulu. After a chuckle and a minute to think about it, he gave a very simple answer: closeness. He explained that when he hears someone’s from Hilo, he immediately thinks about closeness in the sense of relationships. Do they know my other friend from Hilo? Are they related? Did they go to the same school?

He’s absolutely right. Closeness. When you grow up in Hilo, there is closeness on a community level. There is no such thing as a “quick trip to KTA” because you will park your cart on the side of the aisle and “talk story” with several people you know from childhood, work, your kid’s school or team, neighborhood, a relative or with someone who knows your parents, who used to work with your parents, etc. You get the idea. That 3-item list at KTA will take 30 minutes before you even get to the checkout line.

Closeness. On that drive home from KTA, you’ll wave or do the “howzit,” nod and smile to familiar faces in cars on those roadways home. You might complain a little about traffic in Hilo and then you’ll remember those years of living in Honolulu with that kind of traffic which will bring a moment of clarity and end the grumbling about Hilo traffic. You’ll head to your house (which is in the same area of town in which you were raised), making sure you don’t hit Aunty who’s taking her walk on your street – a walk much slower now than you remember from your youth – and because your family has known her for generations, you make sure you wave and smile and maybe even stop to see how’s she’s doing today.

Closeness. When you finally park that car in your garage, you’ll notice your son’s swim shorts hanging on the line and your daughter’s cleats on the rack. You’ll realize that the closeness on a community level really begins at this fundamental level: between parent and child. There is no greater love than between a parent and a child – that is a global truth. What makes the relationship different here is that it’s Hilo. In Hilo (though not like before – even Hilo is not immune to societal problems), you can leave your purse in the cart without it getting stolen. In Hilo, you can’t go anywhere without seeing someone you know which means there are always “eyes and ears” which is helpful when your kid is out with friends. In Hilo, when your child makes a friend, you more likely than not already know them because you know the family. In Hilo, if your car breaks down on the side of the road, you have a good chance of someone you know stopping by to make sure you’re ok and offer help.

The closeness of this community provides a security blanket for our kids. But it is a blanket that must be removed like shoes at a TSA checkpoint when they leave us. As parents, we want to give our children every opportunity to learn and experience life to the fullest. This means leaving Hilo sometimes to take school trips or even attend college. As parents, this also means Letting Go, which feels counter-intuitive to someone who’s grown up in Hilo.

As Hilo parents, we can prepare for that moment at the airport by practicing on a daily basis with our kids’ activities. As parents, we know that our job is to support our children in their activities by: making sure they get to practices/games on time, providing equipment or other items needed, and encouraging them in that activity through positive cheering and emotional support. As parents, we should also realize that our children’s activities are just that: our children’s. But it is this realization and acceptance that will ultimately help us Let Go without sacrificing Closeness. If anything, the Letting Go will provide more Closeness.

As a Hilo parent, I am trying to put into practice the notion of “Letting Go to Foster Closeness” everyday as my son paddles for a canoe club. When my son gets into that canoe and heads out into the ocean, he is there with only his teammates under the watchful eye of God and his ancestors. I am not sitting in that canoe with him. I am on shore – cheering, sweating, pacing, praying. When the race is over, I am waiting for him so I can welcome him back to shore, tell him he did well and bring him close for a quick hug before he goes off with his teammates to celebrate or commiserate.

 As a Hilo parent, it is even more challenging to “let go” when you have a daughter. (Someday, she will enter the world as a woman who will make 80 cents for every dollar that a man makes and who will be often judged on how she looks rather than what she says or does.) My daughter plays softball now and when she stands on that mound a mere 35 feet away from a hitter, it’s hard not to go out there and stand between them to protect her. I watch from behind a fence, pace incessantly and remind myself that she is out there because she is ready. I know that she can protect herself from things hit right back at her on the mound or avoid errant pitches at her body when she’s at the plate. When the game is over, I welcome her off the field, tell her she did well and bring her close for a quick hug before she goes off with her teammates for SPAM musubis and Braddah Pops.

I cannot bring closer those things that haven’t left. I cannot miss those things that haven’t gone away. It is the Letting Go makes the Closeness happen. Our children will take that Closeness of community and family with them wherever they go and it will define them to the extent that people will say, “They’re from Hilo. Can tell…” People will be able to tell they’re from Hilo because of the way they bring people close to them and share their Hilo essence with people, offer help, give generously, love unconditionally.

My friend who offered the “closeness” answer to the question at the beginning of this article said something else that has stayed with me. “I’ve never met a Hilo person who wasn’t proud to be from Hilo.” I couldn’t agree more.


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