Four months ago, I was alone and dying on a hospital bed in Honolulu.

One of the greatest agonies of a slow, painful descent into death is that it affords ample time to think about one’s life. As my consciousness drifted through vivid memories of the past, tears streamed down my face as I came to the conclusion that my entire life and all my hopes, dreams, desires, and efforts were, at the end of the day, irrelevant.

The dictionary defines irrelevant as “having no importance or relation to what is being considered.” Most people would be sorely offended if someone suggested they were irrelevant, but the reality is, the condition of irrelevancy is widespread in today’s Hawaii.

Think for a moment how most of us spend our waking lives. On Oahu, we daily spend hours in traffic, rushing from one red light to another, wading through a sea of tens of thousands of commuters.

When we finally do get to work, we slave our way through mind-numbing tasks, frequently clashing with coworkers, clients, or supervisors over petty matters outside of our control. We put on our professional face, we smile, and we remain polite and self-controlled, even when we want to quit, because all of this, supposedly, is a means to an end.

Danny de Gracia was photographed in 2009 with these Marines after giving a speech to their group commemorating the attack on Ewa Field. Relevance is seeking to seize opportunities to make a difference, he says. Courtesy: Danny de Gracia

We all have a vision locked away in our heart that keeps us going through the treadmill. Like Ice Age cavemen driven into earthen prisons, we ignore the swirling chaos around us and paint murals on the walls of our heart of things that give us hope.

Some long for jet set vacations to exotic destinations. Some want a new or bigger house, with a prestigious automobile parked in the garage. Others want to be married, to have someone to confide in and grow old with. Everyone has a precious promise that keeps them alive, even if only to the next paycheck.

When payday finally comes, we discover that almost half our paycheck went to the tax man. Congratulations, you paid your “fair share.” After paying the bills, paying for parking tickets in Downtown Honolulu, and sometimes, just paying for life, the small amount that’s left is barely enough to save or invest.

We encourage ourselves with epigrams like “problems come to pass, they are not here to stay” or “delays are not denials.” We press on. We keep going. We turn the other cheek. We create new things and adapt to situations. We get promoted to new positions. We meet new people. But somehow, no matter how many things change, in Hawaii, everything seems to stay the same – awful.

That is irrelevance.

On my hospital bed, pain flashed through my body like fire from the life-threatening infection. Soaked in sweat, I clenched my jaws in restless agony and tried to put my mind somewhere else, but when the pain became overwhelming, I clicked the nurse’s button and asked for painkillers. There comes a point in time in every person’s life where holding out becomes soul-crushing, and we desperately need something now to take away the pain.

My mind passed into Fentanyl hell, experiencing the kind of nightmares that can’t be easily forgotten – the ones rooted in a kernel of truth, where people yell, accuse, and judge you with blistering impunity over weaknesses and faults you’re already acutely aware of. I wanted to die, and implored God to simply let me fade out rather than persist in irrelevance.

Danny de Gracia met well-known media commentator Chris Matthews in 2016 during the Republican National Convention. Courtesy: Danny de Gracia

“Danny, just because other people hate you doesn’t mean that you have to hate yourself,” I heard a polite voice whisper to me.

The next morning, a chaplain stopped by my hospital room, asking if I wanted prayer or needed anything. For me, it was like a sign, as if an angel had come to visit me.

“The Bible says in Psalm 41:3 that God will sustain me on my bed of suffering and restore me from sickness,” I told her. “Please pray with me. I believe that He’ll do just that.”

The chaplain prayed for me, and after that day, I began to heal and turned away from the abyss of death. It took weeks to fully recover and finally return to work, but I find myself now with a sharpened empathy for the suffering of others and a heightened impatience toward disparities.

In the 21st century, our battle is a war to keep our humanity intact and to resist irrelevance as mere cogs in Mr. Big’s machine. There is a saying in Hawaiian: “Ua ola loko i ke aloha” – love gives life within.

Hawaii is dying. We need to heal one another by carrying one another’s burdens, showing respect and compassion – not just “tolerance” – and most importantly, by refusing to accept dysfunction as the status quo.

We have suffered long enough under the tyranny of things not making sense. In Hawaii, 1 + 1 needs to equal 2 again.

We were not born to be irrelevant. Starting this holiday season, let’s show true aloha and take back our lives, our communities, and our nation.

Not a subscription

Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.

About the Author