The moon is full today, though that fact was easy to miss in the thick morning murk that blotted out the heavens, yet left Waialeale clear, a pale ghost mountain in the hazy distance. The dogs and I waited for a while to walk, hoping for more light, which the sky finally squeezed out, in shades of gold and red, but just around its eastern edges.
I haven’t said much about Pa`ele, the new dog in my house, partly because he came to me in a rather sad way, which leaves his future a bit uncertain. His owner was recently thrown in jail for what appears to be an extended stay, leaving a teenaged son and a two-year-old dog, both very sweet and looking for a permanent home that hasn’t yet been assured for either. I offered to keep Pa`ele until things got sorted out, and though it’s unclear if they will, or anytime soon, I didn’t have the heart to see the dog taken to the Humane Society or the boy faced with another loss. He wasn't ready to let go.
It’s yet another one of the situations I encounter regularly — difficult situations that are compounded by the restricted options that come from being poor, and even if your relatives want to take you in, if they’re receiving a housing subsidy they have to jump through numerous hoops before you can legally live with them, which means going to Legal Aid, which is overburdened, and so a call for an appointment might mean a 20-minute wait on the phone, whose minutes are bought with a prepaid card that might not get refilled for a good while because cash is perpetually short.
Then there is the man who had a good job, but lost it, and has been struggling to find another, unsuccessfully, and meanwhile he was jerked around by unemployment, which doesn’t even kick in for four weeks sometimes, as if most people can go that long without any income. He finally started to get back on his feet when his unemployment benefits were cut, leaving him unable to pay his rent, and when he got word of a part-time job, he had to borrow money for the gas to get to it and in the meantime, he’s eating meagerly with donations from the Food Bank because his food stamp application got lost in the shuffle of moving the office over to Waimea.
I wish those were the only two situations I could report, but they are not and each and every day I see people struggling to survive, desperate over financial worries that have no easy solution, if any, and many of them are the working poor, who make too much to get any support, yet not enough to live without perpetual anxiety.
Meanwhile, we’re spending trillions on war, and I often find myself thinking, there’s got to be a better way....
Then I went to the Hindu monastery for a story and was reminded again of how they live together harmoniously, in a communal existence of 20 monks, in which they are pretty much self-sufficient, producing most of their food and making their clothes and dividing up the tasks required to keep the extensive grounds beautiful and conduct their other worthwhile, mostly charitable, endeavors.
What was their secret? I asked Palaniswami, one of the head monks, who answered, with a beatific smile, "We live a sort of tribal life.”
“If you’re part of something bigger, it’s much easier to face the world,” he explained. “It’s so enriching for people to be part of a group. It’s like an extended family. It’s such an effective way to live. Maybe we’ll go back to that one day.”
And I thought of how we’ve created a so-called safety net designed to keep people from ending up in the poor house or the gutter, and it works, sort of, but not really well, and it doesn’t actually solve the deeper problems, but merely applies a band-aid, which often falls off, and meanwhile, we’re becoming more isolated, more separate from one another, connected through social networks rather than social systems, thinking we’re progressing when really, we’re missing a very obvious answer, one that worked for humans for thousands of year: decentralization and a return to the tribe.