Violent attack won’t ruin spirit of trip

Dear Kauai:

For many years I’ve come to this island as a sort of pilgrimage of the heart. I am in the belief that Kauai itself is the heart of this planet. Not a scientific fact, just a truly felt personal belief. There is sacred space here.

I am the woman who was threatened, and whose face was spit on by one of the guys in the group who physically assaulted two of our teachers and one of our eighth-grade boys. I’ve been back home from Kauai for two weeks now and have had time to just reflect on that incident at Hanalei Pier.

Certainly this incident could have happened anywhere in this world. Unfortunately it happens every day somewhere. Our eighth-grade boy was unfortunately naïve in thinking that everyone on the island was going to be as friendly as all of the other people we had interacted with throughout the week.

He wasn’t aware enough to pay attention to who he said hello to and who he should ignore if he’s called over to their truck. After realizing that the guy was drugged out and just looking for a fight, the boy had no idea that when he walked away from him to get into our van that the guy would spin around and sucker punch him in the face while he was just sitting in the van. He and his classmates learned a tough lesson that night. Not everyone has good intentions.

Ironically that class of kids weren’t just celebrating a graduation of eight years together, but they were there on the island on a rite of passage.

Together they created a code of honor as a guideline of values to live their lives by. They came to learn about culture outside of their daily norm. They came to help each other through different challenges.

They came to challenge themselves to sit out all night alone in nature, in the dark, in the rain with no shelter, to get to know themselves, to face their fears and find their limits where they would normally quit and meet them head on. They were there to start to plan the future of their dreams, to memorize that code they created together and carry it with them on the next phase of their lives. They came to find out what they are passionate about, and what they are willing to stand up for. They came to celebrate and be honored for this pivotal time in their lives, transitioning from children to young men and young women of honor. They came for fun and adventure.

I have deep gratitude for their willingness to trust us to put them through this weeklong challenging ceremony. I have respect for their desire to strive to be better people, and to consciously do their best to make a positive difference in our world.

Not an easy task when initiated men and women are among the minority of the population. It can become very confusing when many of those who are in the spotlight or in a position of power, are being rewarded, many times monetarily, for not being honorable.

I respect those kids for fundraising their money to come to Kauai so they could participate in this rite of passage. They could have chosen to go just about anywhere on the Mainland for just a fun end of the year trip, but they chose to come to Kauai to have fun and adventure and to go through a rite of passage. They didn’t stay in a fancy hotel. They camped out all week and experienced the true nature of the island. Just being in that sacred place did more good for them than anything we as teachers could accomplish on our own.

I have gratitude and respect for you, the community of Kauai, who are speaking up. Who are following through with not tolerating the young, lost people who are killing the spirit of the island. I have so much gratitude for your community for making people aware of what’s going on and what isn’t right, and what needs to be done to make your home safe for you and for those who visit. I can tell you from first hand observation that the same group of guys are there at the pier most every night.

I have to admit, I came home very angry because sometimes doing the right thing and stepping back to diffuse a situation doesn’t always feel good. Seeing my friends get jumped and punched and me being bullied and spit on in my face by punks, and knowing we had to step back and stay calm to protect the kids, sucked me into the drama of the bad energy.

Everything we really wanted to do to retaliate we didn’t do to keep the kids safe, as well as ourselves because there were just too many of them. It started with one and immediately escalated to upward of 20 of them, so we really couldn’t have done anything differently, but I despise bullies and I felt like they were just going to get away with what they did, and have been doing.

I felt that they will keep doing it based on other stories that we had heard from friends who live on the island. I know that bullies are truly cowards who put up a front to disguise their weakness. They just don’t have their own personal power and so they try to steal it from others by creating victims.

I get it that there is certainly an understandable anger under the surface of those who live on the island because of the raping of the land and the defacing of what is sacred. My co-workers/friends and I have come to the island a couple of weeks a year for decades now and it tears us up to see the out of control development on sacred ground. The selling out for monetary greed. We get it. It’s happening where we live as well, but what makes us stand up where we can, even to big corporations, is our passion for protecting our home. This phrase has been a true motivator when we feel like we aren’t making a difference and losing some of the battles.

“Do not doubt that a small group of people can make a difference — Indeed it’s the only thing that has.” – Margaret Mead

So thank you Kauai, the people who have stepped forward. Thank you for the kind words and gestures from those we encountered during the remainder of our time there, and since we have returned back home. Thank you to those we spoke with who are proactively working with the younger people to help keep them away from the debilitating drugs and alcohol that create insanity.

Where there’s awareness there is always power to choose. I wouldn’t wish that scary encounter on anyone, and yet it was a firsthand experience for our kids of what not to do with their lives.

Our kids learned a tough lesson. That not everyone is honorable. That not everyone has a stable, supportive home life, and bad choices can be made which lead to a life of struggle and sometimes desperation. They learned empathy, not sympathy, that another human being can only act so out of line if they are raised in an unstable environment. But even if they are born into an unhealthy home or social environment they still have choice. Although it can be tough, there’s always free will to choose differently.

It’s not convenient to speak up, make your voice heard, and follow through and make changes, but it’s the right thing to do. It’s easy to be the critic on the sidelines, it’s not easy to jump in and actively protect your home, but it’s the right thing to do. So thank you. Thank you for taking action, and not giving up on what is so precious. Thank you for being daring enough to speak up and being willing to take the heat when what you stand up for may be controversial.

A united community with heart and right action can make a difference. Your community is your social security.

They should be the people that you can truly count on and who can count on you. As a member of the human race it is our responsibility to take care of those who need help. It is not easy being a mentor, but it is an honorable life worth living if you make a positive difference in even one person’s life.

Some of us will be back to bring people to experience your island, learn from our local friends about respecting the culture, and to also fill ourselves up with the Aloha that is Kauai.

•••

Julie Boettler is a teacher who lives in the Bay Area, California.

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