Contradictions Of The Season

This is ‘home’ for this sleeping woman | Nathalie Walker photo

This is ‘home’ for this sleeping woman | Nathalie Walker photo

Wednesday evening last, I found myself sitting on a bench at Pearl-ridge Mall Uptown jotting notes for an after-dinner talk. A parade of women with Christmas shopping lists clutched in their hands passed me. So too an inordinate number of young couples with babies and men near comatose as they accompanied their wives and girlfriends on our annual holiday consumer fest.

Santa’s bell could be heard ringing through the mall, and while cash registers don’t ring anymore, in this old geezer’s head I could somehow hear them as well. The mall decorations were festive; the stores themselves also had put on their best green and red and well-stocked faces.

Two lovely girls sat near me, sisters waiting for their mother to exchange her cell phone at the Verizon store. The younger one, 7 years old, told me she wanted a doll for Christmas. Her 15-year-old sister was carrying a doll, not a gift for her sister, but as part of an assignment for her class in human relations at Radford High School. Nice kids. Santa, I’m sure, will be good to them, as he is to all whose parents can make it to the mall.

He’s not so good to all. In the midst of the torrential downpour we experienced a couple of weeks ago, I saw a 50-ish woman drudging up Waimano Home Road. She carried an over-stuffed pack on her back and an equally stuffed shopping bag in each hand. I think she was heading toward the restrooms in a local park, where I’ve seen her sleeping on a bench that’s protected by the building’s overhanging roof.

She’s a former student of mine. Thirty years ago she took a couple classes from me. She was mentally disturbed, but not unintelligent, and she gave those classes her best shot.

College couldn’t save her. She dropped out of school, and it became common to see her walking around Pearl City, talking to herself. I approached her occasionally to ask her how she was doing, but it often seemed that she didn’t recognize me and was frightened by my overtures.

Once she wrote me and one of my colleagues a 20-page, single-spaced letter full of raging paranoia and incoherence about somebody or something that had wronged her. It was impossible to tell. I haven’t tried to talk to her in a long time, and I passed her by in that raging rainstorm.

We all pass her, maybe on our way to the festive mall. Oh, in the holiday season, we will hearken to the ringing bells of the Salvation Army, drop in a couple of bucks, maybe a fiver. We may make a year-end contribution to Hawaii Foodbank, the Institute for Human Services or Catholic Charities. Some of those contributions may get to her.

It’s those other 340 days of the year that present the problem. For most of them, we’ll pass her by. Or if we’re a publicity-hungry politician we may grab her shopping cart and start beating it with a sledgehammer.

Or talk about the affordable rentals that will be available in the massive Kakaako condominium developments that are hurtling skyward, offering “affordable” rentals that don’t come anywhere near affordable. Or talk about getting her into the mental health system. Exactly what system?

We need to build and pay, 365 days a year, for the institutions that will treat the mentally ill and our addicted homeless as human beings. That will be an accomplishment to ring bells about.