When I’m not writing mysteries, I’m working as a school counselor and therapist—and this morning as I walked into my 100 year old school building my ears were treated to an unbelievably sweet harmony of young voices, echoing off the shining wood floors with a sound like angels singing—in Hawaiian.
It never fails to get me right in the heart, to hear this almost-lost language resurrected, surging up through the rooms like the sound of ocean through a conch. I grew up in Hawaii and went to public school at a time when the emphasis was on acculturation rather than cultural preservation, and other than pidgin English phrases and the chorus of the state song, Hawaii Pono `e, I’m not well versed in the language. Working one day a week (they can’t afford a full time counselor) in this little school which hosts one of the state’s Hawaiian Immersion programs continues to feel like a privilege to me.
Hawaiian culture is rich in musical tradition, and the students have been preparing for months for the annual Na Mele (The Song) competition on Dec. 3.
We are in the final weeks before the contest, and in spite of restructuring, the blitzkrieg of No Child Left Behind state testing, funding cuts and layoffs, this school has made time to honor and participate in Na Mele—and I’m thrilled and proud to bear witness to the hard work and passion that have kept this tradition alive.
I believe in public education. We do the best we can with a lot of challenges. We don't have the luxury of working with the privileged, the motivated, the best and brightest whose parents tutor, prod and pay for them. But sometimes, we get to be a part of something amazing that brings together a whole community to celebrate talent and culture, and keep both alive in spite of the odds.
The acoustics in the old wooden auditorium are amazing. Even now, sitting at my desk on my lunch break and typing this, I can feel the vibration of voices coming up through the floor beneath me and trembling in the walls. I get teary even as the out-of-tune plunking of the antique upright piano makes me smile.
Today I love what I do as I wait for rehearsal to end, and my next student to come do art therapy with me—paints and crayons at the ready, I listen to unbelievable sweetness enfold me in a language I wish I understood.