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Free At Last

Opinion by Father Pat Killilea, St. Francis Church, Kalaupapa

The COVID-related meeting had been slated to happen in Pasqual Hall, the seat of Kalaupapa’s movie theater, originally dedicated in 1916 and rededicated in 2012. However, when morning dawned, we realized that the venue had been switched overnight to the shade of the great banyan tree just off Staff Row. We were not entirely surprised at this change, since this banyan tree has provided the shelter for all of our community meetings since COVID-19 hit our islands. It has been the safe gathering place.

On schedule, our Dept. of Health Administrator, Ken Seamon, appeared before us like Jesus Christ appeared to the apostles in the upper room after his resurrection. He then proceeded to give us the latest directives from the DOH for living in Kalaupapa at this time. This would be in effect for the next 120 days. Now, while many of the directives remain the same as those previously in effect, we were delighted to hear that those of us who have already received our two vaccinations will be free to return to Kalaupapa after visiting another of our Hawaiian Islands, without having to quarantine for 14 days on return here. On hearing this, a somewhat muted “free at last” murmur went up. The muted factor was because of the continued inclusion of mask wearing in the directives. Still, in our own humble way, we echoed the “free at last” of the great Dr. Martin Luther King in his 1963 speech and the equally great President Nelson Mandela in 1994.

We continue to wear our masks out of respect for our fellow residents and we try to keep the promulgated social distance. So, when we sneeze, for example, the mask prevents us from splattering someone’s face or from blowing out an adjacent window. When someone addresses us, we may have to say, “Sorry! Can you come with that again?” There may be a temptation to shout, but here in Kalaupapa, we try to be polite as we are in the land of Saints Damien and Marianne.

We are still somewhat cut off from the outside world in a sense, as no visitors are still permitted here at this time. And so I talk a lot to my three remaining cats, one of which is sleeping on the couch next to me as I pen this. Titus is a gentle little tiger and reminds me of what our society and our world could and would be like if all of humanity learned to get along. There would be no place for “woke” and no space for “Cancel Culture.” God Almighty, we would all be free at last. Aloha.

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