My comfort with cemeteries has spilled over into my work life. For a number of years the counseling office I worked out of was located about a block from a lovely cemetery. It provided a place to decompress from difficult sessions, a space to pray, and an every-changing backdrop for walking. It’s a good thing I had that comfort, because the bedrooms in the hale kahu (house of the kahu, parsonage) in Hana, Maui, was about 15 yards from the cemetery that was the final resting place for generations of local people. I wasn’t at all afraid of the cemetery, even at night, even living there alone, aside from weekends when Rod would drive in.
As the solo pastor, in a very small, rural, isolated community, “other tasks not otherwise specified in the job description” went along with the position. One unofficial task was checking on Bill (I’ll call him that), a homeless man from California, who was an alcoholic. Bill (let’s pretend that was his name) slept on a bed of leaves in the cemetery near the back door of the hale pule (house of prayer – church building). Bill had been a professional trumpet player, until drink got the worst of him. Like so many others, he made his way to Hawaii, and then to the end of the road in Hana, where he took up residence in our cemetery. I like cemeteries, but don’t want to reside in one until I have taken my final breath!
It was part of my duty to open and close the doors of the hale pule each day, and so every day around 7 am, I would make my way past Bill’s usual sleeping place, under the banyan tree where he sort of blended in with the leaves, to make sure he was breathing. He was the only person that I asked numerous times to leave the church cemetery when he and some itinerant friends decided to mellow out with beer and paka lolo (marijuana) while sitting in the shade on the bench near the grave of one of our beloved kupuna (elder). His often offended my sense of propriety, my sense of security, my sense of right and wrong.
One week he went missing. A couple of us noted that we hadn’t seen Bill for a few days. We even went and searched under the banyan tree stepping carefully for fear we might find him dead. I asked people hanging out at the Ranch Store if they might have some idea where Bill was. One man with a long, bushy blond-mixed-with-white beard and a ponytail to match, in old military fatigues, said, “Bill who?” When I described him, this middle-aged hippy said, “Oh, you mean the town drunk?” Ouch, I thought, as I said, “yes, he’s the one.”
I even called the police who seemed to think I was crazy. That call went something like this:
“I’m Kahu Anne over at Wananalua Church, and I am wondering if you have any idea where Bill might be.”
“Bill the man who lives in our cemetery.”
“Bill the man who lives in your cemetery?”
“Yes, that’s correct…Well, he doesn’t really live in the cemetery – at least we don’t really want him living there, but he does nonetheless.”
“What is Bill’s last name?”
“Well, I don’t actually know that. Gee, you must be wondering about me calling about someone who sort of lives in our cemetery, whose last name I do not know.”
Dead silence. Then, “What does he look like?”
“Well, he looks like a homeless guy. Always in the same clothes, usually drunk, a haoli (Caucasian) pretty tall (this of course being relative compared to 5’2” me).” Then, finally, painfully, hoping that this might refresh the officer’s memory, I said, “The town drunk.”
“How old is Bill?”
“Well, I’m not really sure. Maybe in his mid-50’s. It’s sort of hard to tell with all the ravages of alcoholism”
“And you are who?”
“I am the minister of the congregational church across from the Hotel Hana Maui. I am kahu Anne.”
“Well, I know you must think that I am crazy to be reporting a missing homeless person without a last name who isn’t really homeless in one sense because he lives in our cemetery but we really don’t like him living there, and besides, you really can’t live in a cemetery, can you? He’s known as the town drunk, but I am worried about him. Can you tell me if you have needed to send someone that meets that description to the hospital, or have you arrested someone like that in the past few days?”
“We haven’t taken anyone to the hospital that I am aware of, and we haven’t arrested anyone for 7 days.” (Gee, should I feel relieved that the crime rate is so low in Hana that arrests happen only once a week, or concerned that maybe the police aren’t on top of things?)
“Could you just promise to call me if you get any information about Bill?”
“Sure.” (Probably thinking this is one crazy lady!)
I even had two prayer chains on the mainland alerted to pray about this person. And then one morning, when I went to unlock the hale pule he was back. Luke 15:1-10 includes two parables – one about God being like a shepherd looking for the one sheep out of 100 that is lost, and the other about God being like a housewife that has lost a silver coin and searches high and low for it. The text reports that when the missing one is found, there is great rejoicing – even as there will be more joy in heaven when one sinner repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance.
What I am not proud to report is that within one day of being back, I found myself annoyed, once again, at the irresponsible behavior and questionable friends hanging out nearby. How quickly I moved from concern to frustration – skipping quickly past the whole rejoicing part.
My moods change day-by-day, and hour-by-hour in this season, from feeling frustrated, worried, and afraid, to having moments of joy when it seems that for brief time I catch sight of our searching God who rejoices when we are found, who knows our first and last names, and has prepared a place for us.
Thankful for our God who never gives up on us! ~ Anne