Where May Day in Hawaii meets the Opening Olympic Ceremonies

Stories about who we are as people need to be told again and again and at all levels.

May Day in Hawaii – I grew up participating in an annual showcase event that every school would have.

Teachers would spend months with us preparing for this day. It is an annual event of pageantry and the telling of the Hawaii story. A story in which, King Kamehameha the arrival of missionaries and then immigrants to work the sugar cane fields were represented.

Hula, contemporary dance, and other stories are presented by each grade level. Parents flock to this outdoor gala to watch the story retold (and of course snap a picture of their child performing). The same story is told every year in the Aloha Week parade in Waikiki.

Thousand of miles away from the Hawaiian Islands and years later, I came to Vancouver. I fell in love with this city as well as meeting the love of my life here. We were married in 2003 and had our first little Canadian baby.

This brings me to 2010 when Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics. Our family got to see the Olympic torch passed and carried through our little village in North Vancouver. We were so happy to be part of it and could not wait for games to begin.

Everything shifted for Canada then or that’s what it felt like for me on the night of the opening ceremonies and in the days to follow.

Having lived here for so many years, I did not know what the Canadian story really was.   Let me rephrase that, I was not raised Canadian, so I wanted to understand & hear what someone who was born & raised in Canada would say the Canadian story is.

When I asked my friends, they would answer, “it depends ” and went on to explain facts in history and what we are not.

For me, my Canadian identity finally made sense that winter.

David Atkins, the director of the opening ceremonies, helped us see our connection to the land, First Nation, French, and British heritage, and our creative artistic roots.

Canadians began to acknowledge our shared story.     The pageantry was just incredible. As the ceremony continued, we were in awe of the beauty, majesty, the colours, pieced words, dances, graphics, and songs.

The culmination of K.D. Lang singing “Hallelujah” resonated in our hearts deeply.  We finally experienced the “big picture” of what it means to be Canadian through the telling of our story.

During the broadcast breaks, we kept seeing the Molson Beer “I AM CANADIAN” commercial over and over again.   I believe everyone began to truly believe in those words and the singing of our national anthem felt just a bit richer.

For me, it felt like everyone who had lived here and those who have called Canada home actually all landed on the same shore together. We were one people.

In British Columbia Canada, in the days following the opening ceremonies, millions of people flooded the downtown core celebrating Canada and welcoming the visitors. Our friends down south were tweeting to the world, “how friendly and warm and kind are the Canadians.”

Today, I see the echoes of our story repeated as many groups and organizations continue to follow this unique Olympic tradition of acknowledging the people and the land we have been gifted to live and work in. Subtle and beautiful.

It sends me back to the “conch shell blowing” at May Days announcing the start of the event.

I have learned that identity requires us to hear our stories over and over again.   Family stories, Marriage stories, birthing stories, and community stories need to be told again and again.

Books, plays, songs, and movies need to be created and shared.

This week while watching the Rio Olympics, I am reminded of how all countries and places like Hawaii need to have their stories remembered and retold.

In Rio 2016, I could see the same elements and storytelling come together for Brazil just like in 2010 for Vancouver.   We all got to see how the blended beauty and diversity of a passionate people were formed.

What was unique this time was their story of the future.  

What I am learning is that identity requires HOPE and a FUTURE and stories to remind us of that.

The Rio 2016 Olympic committee sent a powerful message about global warming but turned it to hope with one seed at a time.

We were caught off guard with the interruption of a documentary like footage of time lapse ice melting and maps of waterfronts taken over by the rising water.

Then everything made sense as the story resumed back in the stadium with a young boy and a plant then after more time seeds germinating and growing into beautiful trees. It was a reminder of the future.

In my mind I was reminded of the Wendell Berry line in a poem, “Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.” Rio organizers wanted the world to know everyone has a part to play in our future.

The story of identity embodies the stories of our roots. We need to tell them over and over again because it reminds us of our shared identity as fellow human beings.   We need them to remind us that there is a future and hope.

As a young man, I arrived on these Canadian shores in order to continue my education in a field I thought would be my life’s work.   I didn’t know that everything would change.   I needed to rediscover my past, my gifts and explore what my story really was.

I was able to celebrate the good, mourn the bad, and embrace the ugly. I got to name things I never named.

But also I began to revel in and awaken hidden gifts and explore my passions again.   I learned to play again.

Knowing one’s story is a gift and I hope that your story will surprise you as mine did me.   I came here wanting to dream and hope again and be open to a brighter future.

As part of the journey, I had to hear other stories that are dear to me about truth, hope, and freedom. I had to hear stories about overcoming struggles and life come from death. This gift I hope to give to my children and watch as their stories unfold.

View Vancouver 2010 Opening Ceremony Highlights Video here.