Having family lightens burden of homelessness
A RECENT newscast reported that there are more than 744,000 homeless people nationwide, and Hawaii is among the top five states with this problem. Because of very few affordable rentals, families with children have to choose between eating and housing. They end up living in tents on the beach.
I found myself reflecting on all this when I recalled seeing a familiar face on a downtown city bus years ago. The tall, thin man was bearded, wearing tattered clothing and rubber slippers, and carrying a bulging backpack. He seemed aware of my gaze, but continued to look ahead. That ghostly figure turned out to be a guy I dated briefly while attending the University of Hawaii. He majored in biology and really liked the local culture. More than 20 years later, there he was on the bus. I stared at him, wondering if I should say something.
Just then, the bus stopped and the man got off. I sensed he recognized me also, but was too embarrassed to say anything. He quickly left to escape my scrutiny. I got the impression he was homeless and single. Why hadn't he returned to his family in New York? Had they rejected him? It was terrible to be alone and in trouble.
For me, home is where my family lives. I have a husband and two adult children and one of these days, I'll become a grandmother. My mother, three siblings, and numerous nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins complete the family picture.
While living abroad for seven years, I got so sick I could no longer work. Who took me in and cared for me? My parents. It was a big adjustment to go from being an independent adult in New York City to being a dependent child again in Honolulu. But I think that it was God's way of letting me know what was truly important: Not fame or fortune, but love. Despite all of those years spent in New York, there was really nothing or nobody to keep me there.
I have no regrets about spending seven years traveling the world and living in California, Thailand, Europe and New York. But I did it alone. Wouldn't it have been better to share my adventures with someone special? Who knows, if I'd married in any of those places, I might have started a new dynasty there -- just like my grandparents who immigrated to Hawaii from Korea.
I have to admire my maternal grandfather, who came to Hawaii as a penniless immigrant laborer. After working in the cane fields for 10 years, he saved enough money to open a country store. He was so prosperous, women were practically lining up at his door to marry him. Instead, he married a Korean picture bride and went on to father 10 children. When he died, he was a millionaire, owning several apartment buildings and houses. But more than that, Grandpa died a happy man, knowing he left behind a loving family.
No matter where you live, it is always easier to cope with adversity when loving family members surround you. But if you can't count on feeling safe and accepted by your own family, then you can truly be considered -- in more ways than one -- "homeless."
So when I see pictures of homeless families living on the beach, I have two reactions: First, sadness that they have to live this way, and second, relief that they are not alone but live with spouses, parents or children. Although it's tough either way you look at it, being part of a homeless family is better than being homeless and single.
Glenda Chung Hinchey is the Hawaii-based author of two memoirs, "Like a Joyful Bird" and "Love, Life, and Publishing."