R-E-S-P-E-C-T and community

I recently had an epiphany that seems so obvious in retrospect, I am almost embarrassed to share it. However, there may be others out there who have never looked at things from this angle before either, and I hope you appreciate what I learned.

On Friday, I went out with a group of co-workers to plant sandalwood trees with the Hawaii Reforestation Program. We were mostly adults, and a couple of kids, including the 4-6 year old daughter of one of those co-workers.Her actual (blood) Auntie was with us, and she stuck pretty close to her to begin. Once we all split up to go plant our allotment of trees, I was in a small group with this little girl, and three adult males.

Let me pause for a moment to explain something that I really appreciate about Hawaii, at least this is my understanding of it: when you are speaking to someone older than you, whether you are a child or adult, you show respect by addressing that person as “Auntie” or “Uncle”. This does not have to do with blood, rather it is respect for knowledge and age.

So, this little girl was working with us to plant trees, and after a while, she turns to me and says, “Auntie, will you help me?” I’m not around kids very often here, so it still hits my heart when one calls me Auntie. Of course I helped her, and when I urged her to walk forward to catch up with “Uncle” she knew that I meant the other two men in our group who had walked ahead. She didn’t need to know our names, but she knew our roles, and that she should listen to us.

Later, after we had all reconvened and were going to see the adult sandalwood trees, and the little girl was addressing another woman as Auntie, one of the results of this all-inclusive title occurred to me: she could say “Auntie” and mean any one of the four adult women in that group, and any one of us would have responded to her. She could say “Uncle” and the nearest adult male would have asked what she needed. This is what community does: become responsible to a child’s need, even if it is not our own, because you are “Auntie” or “Uncle”. I think this is really beautiful, and I’m so honored every time a child calls me Auntie. I’d probably be less appreciative if the 18 year old checker at KTA called me Auntie, but that’s my vanity speaking. 🙂

Planting sandalwood


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