For all the havoc and heartache it has wreaked, COVID-19 will surely rank among the most heinous villains in history. But amid the suffering and uncertainty have emerged stories of courage, compassion and hope. Four community leaders offer insights on how they are living through the coronavirus pandemic.
Kumu hula, songwriter, teacher, performer, Maui
Keali‘i Reichel calls COVID-19 the “separating disease.” Social distancing is a mandate for good reason, but in Hawai‘i, it’s part of our culture to greet people with hugs and honi. Right now, we can’t do that. Instead of gathering at weekly classes, students in his Hālau Ke‘alaokamaile are learning hula via Zoom. Shopping is no longer an opportunity to talk story; instead, Reichel is giving air hugs to friends and relatives he sees at stores.
“It’s hard, but we have to play the cards that we’ve been dealt,” he said. “We have to change our mindset to keep the community and our loved ones safe. Look for the positives instead of focusing on the fear and isolation.”
Reichel suggests redirecting intense emotions into productive activities; for example, if you’re sad, weave a basket, take an online class or help a kupuna buy groceries. Because his usually hectic schedule has been curtailed, he and his life partner have been able to strengthen their relationship by cooking meals, binging on Netflix movies and thinking of ways to reuse, recycle and repurpose things together, which wouldn’t be happening if life had continued as it had been.
“When this situation is pau—we don’t know how long it will take, but it will eventually be pau—you could wind up with new skills and interests,” Reichel said. “This is temporary, and when we come out on the other side it would also be great to see a world that is more united, mindful and loving.”
Executive director, Waipā Foundation, Kaua‘i
From kale, kalo and carrots to beets, banana and bok choy—more than 30 crops flourish in a 1,600-acre ahupua‘a that the Waipā Foundation (waipafoundation.org) manages near Hanalei. As others who farm know, being close to the land—beautiful and generous with its gifts—can be healing.
“It takes a lot of physical work to grow our own food; however, the mental and emotional benefits, as well as the food and exercise, are well worth it,” Stacy Sproat-Beck said. “Rekindling our traditional relationship with the ‘āina is very stabilizing and calming, especially during situations like this when we need to self-isolate. It promotes sustainability, connects us to our culture and deepens our appreciation for our ancestors.”
In the past, overcoming adversity has also revealed the resilience of the human spirit. Sproat-Beck and her two younger sisters grew up hearing how their family lost their homes and nearly everything they owned in Kalihiwai during the 1946 and 1957 tsunamis. If the girls were ever lazy or ungrateful, they were quickly reminded that their ‘ohana had to rebuild everything literally from the ground up.
“It took hard work, determination and faith in Ke Akua to accomplish that,” Sproat-Beck said. “There was no time for them to sit around and worry. Since then, Kaua‘i has been hit with other disasters, including floods and hurricanes. Communities rebounded from those just as we will rebound from what we’re going through now. Our stories of perseverance can be inspirational lessons for our children and future generations.”
Radio personality, O‘ahu
Faith is the light that is helping Lina Langi see clearly during this crisis. A devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she believes mortal life is just a blip in the path of eternal progression. We are not given more trials than we can endure, and losing oneself in service to others—even small, simple acts of kindness such as a text, email or phone call—can uplift both the giver and recipient.
The “stay-at-home” policy has been a blessing for Langi and her family (her mom and two brothers live with her and her husband). “The daily grind had kept us from spending quality time together,” she said. “Now there’s nothing else to do but spend quality time together. We’re cleaning, eating meals, singing and playing music, discussing plans for future house renovations, basically connecting in ways that we haven’t in a very long time.”
Langi recently started a 75-day online mental discipline program called 75 Hard (75hard.com). “It’s not a fitness or weight loss program; it trains you in consistency, regardless of the circumstances,” she said. “The name is accurate; it is haaarrrd, but it is strengthening my resolve.”
Weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m., during the afternoon “drive-time” slot, “Lina Girl” is at the microphone at Hawaiian 105 KINE, entertaining, informing and reassuring listeners all over O‘ahu. “Even now, we can find peace and joy,” she said. “I know we will recover from this test with great memories, experiences and personal growth.”
Fashion designer, Hawai‘i island
In mid-March, Manaola Yap had 40 employees and busy stores at Pearlridge Center and Ala Moana Center. Today, both stores are closed, most employees are furloughed, and skeleton office and warehouse staff are working reduced hours.
“We have virtual team meetings to provide COVID-19 updates and are sending daily motivational messages to keep morale up,” Yap said. “Instead of clothing and accessories, we’re making masks [www.manaolahawaii.com/malama-masks]; the proceeds are enabling us to donate medical-grade masks to health-care workers throughout the state.”
Yap had been traveling back and forth between O‘ahu, where his eponymous company is headquartered, and Hawai‘i island where he was born and raised, but he’s hunkered down at his Pearl City home for now. Being able to look at O‘ahu with fresh eyes has inspired him to create new patterns and designs.
“Art—whether it’s fashion, music or painting—heals, energizes and brings joy,” Yap said. “That’s what buoys us when we’re feeling low.”
He and his ipo have also found clearing invasive species from their yard and propagating native plants and other fragrant favorites to be therapeutic. They’re completing old projects, starting new ones and finding comfort in music, laughter and home-cooked meals.
“We’re all facing major challenges, but this is a good time for us to reflect, reset and appreciate what we value most,” Yap said. “Hopefully, when things are back to normal, we’ll be stronger, more caring people. ‘E mālama kekahi i kekahi: Together is the only way we make it through difficult times.’”