In November’s general election for the Kauai County Council, Derek Kawakami received the most votes with 15,990 — 3,000 more than any other council candidate.
That kind of overwhelming support from voters could lead one to think Kawakami might be at least a little smug, a little sure of himself. You might even think he would use every opportunity when speaking to people to promote his vision for Kauai and what he hopes to do as councilman.
But that’s not Derek Kawakami.
The man who left his House seat to run for council is anything but arrogant and prideful. When he walked to the podium at the Kauai Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce meeting this week, he displayed grace, humility and respect. His short speech before about 50 people was refreshing as it was enlightening. Our only regret was more didn’t hear it.
He had, he said, a speech to talk about his vision and moving forward.
“But I’m not really feeling it right now, so I’m going to talk about something different,” he said.
What he opted to talk about had nothing to do with politics or taxes or roads or agendas.
First, he addressed the Kauai Community College students at the meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn. He spoke of his father, Charles Kawakami, who passed away at the age of 75 on Dec. 3.
“My dad’s word of advice, when I was deciding what I wanted to do, was to do something that you’re going to wake up wanting to do and not to chase the money,” he said.
There are a lot of people out there who have great paying jobs who wake up every morning miserable, Derek said. His father “always encouraged us to find something that you’re passionate about, something that you love.”
So he did.
“My small word of advice, for what it’s worth, is to find something that you truly wake up loving to do,” he said.
Derek also shared words about his mother, Arlene Kashima Kawakami, who died Sept. 4, 2015, at the age of 71.
He said the holiday season, Christmas, is a joyous time for many. But not all.
“We have to be mindful that for many people and many families, it can be very stressful, it can be very lonely, it can be a very depressing time,” he said.
“My mom would always tell us to never lose sight of what the Christmas season is all about.”
The Kawakami family, which worked in the retail business, knew all about the stress that comes during the hustle and bustle of people feverishly spending money.
“It was my mom who would sit us down and make us reflect on what Christmas and the holidays are all about,” he said.
Christmas, Arlene told her children, was a time for giving and a time for forgiving.
Forgiveness, she said, was one of the best gifts anyone could give — or receive.
“She had that little play on words that stuck with me,” Derek said.
Anger, bitterness, jealousy are a waste of energy, Derek recounted
“The best gift you can give to others and yourself, for peace of mind, is to forgive and wipe the slate clean.”
“And so I challenge everybody during this beautiful Christmas time to find somebody to forgive, and I promise you it is the most liberating feeling and it allows you to sleep well at night.
“Even if you don’t get it in return, I promise you, you’ll feel like a better person.”
Come Christmas, Arlene Kawakami would also stress that the season was a time for family — just being present with each other. She didn’t want material gifts.
“Just be here; just be present,” Derek said. “That’s the biggest present a mom could get. It’s not what’s under the Christmas tree that makes for a good holiday, it’s who’s around the Christmas tree.”
Those words of wisdom from his parents are something Derek tries to pass on to his children and something he falls back on when life is stressful.
“Thank you for being present,” he said. “And I challenge you to give that gift of forgiveness.”
Thanks for the good words, Derek.
And here’s hoping we all accept that challenge.