Today citizens of Hawaii and many others are remembering Father Damien of Molokai. It is the 137th anniversary of his arrival in Hawaii's leprosy settlement.
In honor of the day I want to share a story from one of the primary resources I used while researching Healing Water. News from Molokai is an exchange of letters between Peter Kaeo, a leprosy patient and his cousin, Queen Emma. Peter arrived in the settlement just 2 months after Father Damien did. His letters were rich with amazing details I needed for my story.
"On inquiring I learned that Father Damien, for that is the name of the Reverend Gentlemen, had lost some checks which belong to the Natives, and which he Damien had taken the responsibility to take from Mr Rose and give it to the poor Natives that belongs to his church, and are too weak to appear personally to Mr Rose. The poor Man was so confused that he was picking [up] strips of Paper that was scatrered on the floor, asking the Natives whether they had seen any checks, and whether he had given checks to the Natives by mistake, and all sort of questions, and actually Crying."
Finding this passage was such a thrill. It demonstrates so powerfully the compassion of Father Damien and also reveals a flaw in his personality - he could be careless at times. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that he was simply juggling too many responsibilities. Or that he was quick to drop whatever he was doing to answer a cry for help and in the process would lose track of what he'd set out to do.
Here's the account from Healing Water - from the viewpoint of Pia, my protagonist.
Father Damien was there, too, talking happily to the storekeeper until he realized he’d lost the checks he was holding for some of the patients. “Wait a minute,” he said. “I had them right here. I know I had them. Where could they be?”
He asked everyone in the store if we had seen them. I don’t know if someone else had, but I hadn’t. And everyone told him they hadn’t either.
By this time, Father Damien knew about the crime that went on in this place. “Who could have taken them?” he asked.
One of the children grabbed the priest’s hand and pointed to me. “Pia is a thief,” he said.
The priest came to me then and gripped my shoulders. “Have you seen those checks?” he asked. His eyes were filled with tears.
“No,” I said. I was ashamed for the Father to know that I had been one of the criminals in this place. “Please believe me. I do not steal anymore.”
Ah Loy came to my defense then. “Pia speaks true,” he said. “He is not Touch Hands now.”
After Father Damien turned away, he saw some paper lying on the floor. He grabbed it, hoping that it was one of the checks, but it was not. He searched in every corner of the store. “What will my poor children do without their allowance?” He rushed out the door and went to see the luna.
That’s how Father Damien was. He cared about every single one of us, and he knew we needed much more than our six dollars would buy.