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I am ever yours -- Lumepa Apelu

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moanalei lumepa daughter samoa rethinking home

She sat next to me, on the edge of the fish market bench, looked into the dirty waters and said, “Mum, they really hate animals in Samoa don’t they?” I let the thought linger because she was only nine. Her care for the fish, the birds, the dogs, the sharks and dolphins too was as deep as my love for poetry. I did not teach her that kind of care. I think she earned it from a previous life.

Today as I try to dance myself into the space of tender grass and love lilies in my own mind, I am thinking of the drive to work from Lalomanu. The hugging mountains, the endless green, and the naked sky of blue lulls one’s soul towards the meaning of life and what it sometimes holds so tight. But life like water flows and what we hold, we lose. Nature reminds of the softness within ourselves, doesn’t it? Maybe that is why she felt for the fish in the murky waters beneath our dangling feet. Maybe that is why I was surprised at the depth of her small person thoughts. She understood easily the misery of the birds in the sky.

But I take a moment here to look through the large windows of my office, to question God for the rain, the sorrows, the grave confusion, the battle of broken hearts, the music that is heard by the universe and which I may be part of the playing instruments in a large orchestra - a string at least. The music she plays in my sleep.

After a tragedy the soul always seeks only the light. Weary of darkness, it wobbles on and tries to take flight. That is the beauty of life. We continue on. We carry forward. We never really die. Our spirits are meant to soar, not brittle and fated to the floor. These mortal experiences are only that – meant to be lived through till we know how to make them useful then another one drops by. Pain ends here, I have come to believe. But without showing too much the heart I carry inside, I must write now of what my daughter’s death had reminded me of. She made me think of the skies.

Moanalei, translates and with its purposed meaning to ocean-flower. Now so appropriate considering how she died. She came to me one evening, eyes eager as always when she had something important to say. “Did you know that we are killing the world?” I looked at her, absent, but she carried on. She gave me an entire ten minute lecture on what mankind is doing to the ozone layer. She was learning it at school. She said, “ Mum, we have to do something about it. So I wrote a letter. I hope I win.” She did. But her prize came when she was lying in the morgue and her soul was waiting for her drowned body to be buried.

Her brief letter was not edited. It had careless misspellings. She must have rushed it so that the ideas would flow fast, as she was as quick to think as she was in talking. A daily quarrel between her and I. I wanted her to practice calming down. Yet her spirit was as natural as it was free. She carried on being herself. She wrote that she wished the people in the world would look after it. She said that she thinks the world needs help as if the world was a child. She even wrote that she was Samoan but her father was a palagi as if to state that she knew her feet well. She wrote what she carried in her heart and saw from her own deep eyes. She wanted to make a difference. She did not want the world to die.

Four years later, I am looking at her photo on the wall of my office. She inspires the living fear out of me and I fear a lot. All that is left in here is love. The reminder of her message, and the reason of her death, makes sense finally. She was not meant to live so long. She had something important to give and she did. It has taken me some time to unwrap her little light but now it fully glistens and gives meaning to my life.

The reminder of Moanalei today is not so much a memory of a sad mother, no. I am very delighted to share part of her story now, and maybe here I should apologize to those who wanted to know after the wave. The heart roams around darkness for days after such a tragedy. But today I am deep in my knees content with the way God has placed me with the things I want to I write.

This gentle letter is about the reminder of our kindnesses, our softness, the meaning of darkness and why it needs to be there regardless of our need to see the light. For without the bitter tears, we cannot recall the kindness of our own hearts. We stay frozen and uncaring of the worries of the birds in the sky unless we know that deep inside we are born to be kind. And we cannot melt, if we are not frozen. We cannot love, it we do not hate. If Moanalei had a cure for every ailment in this world, it would be the meaning of her life. These pages, though short, say it tenderly and in kind. There is no room to condemn another’s path because we are all in the same universe of aching souls aiming to take flight.

Nowadays, I spend my Sundays watching her dance on the crystal floors of the sea at Lalomanu. She touches the face of heaven and makes a splash towards the sun. I know she is responsible for the smile in my mind. I know she sent me that butterfly which surprised me as I was singing on the way to work this morning to Natalie Merchant, “ I need the darkness, the sweetness, the sadness, the weakness, oh, I need this, I need a lullaby, a kiss good night, angel sweet love of my life..”

I waved the butterfly a kiss from my heart to hers, and I said gently, “Dear Moanalei, the world will live, love will prosper, light will shine, and we will be content for we are kind, and I am ever yours...”

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Lumepa Apelu is the project coordinator in Samoa.

"Rethinking Home: Climate Change in New York and Samoa" is a Museum Connect Project sponsored by The U.S Department of State and The American Alliance of Museum. 

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