Speaker for the Dead: John Joseph Schneider
One of my favorite series of books is by Orson Scott Card and starts with Ender’s Game. While I don’t agree with all of the authors politics these days, I was forever touched by Ender and his stories.
Particularly relevant today is the second book in the series, the Speaker for the Dead. Speakers, as they are called in Ender’s world, are given access to all of the deceased’s files and data, and asked to Speak of their lives with complete honesty, and no judgement. It is the highest honor provided to the dead, and I am proud to fill that role today.
I am going to Speak you a story today, about how I found my way to Kulaniapia, and the man who sent me on my way.
John Joseph Schneider was born on May 28th, 1954. He was born into a wealthy family that failed to endure emotionally, and what was left of it was not there for him when he died in 2016. He was surrounded by the family he chose when he passed – his best friend from high school, and his children, that John played such an active role in nurturing over the years, and was the godfather to each.
John relished in every experience of life, whether jovial or vain. He had stories. So many stories. Some of them were probably even loosely based on truths, but all were his experience of life, which enriched everyone it touched.
For the majority of his life, John was afforded the luxury, and carried the burden, of being somewhat disconnected with reality. In 1980 his father wrote a letter, apologizing for something one can only assume seriously damaged the family and their relationship, but was left unsaid. Regardless, his father always provided for him and his mother financially, even if he could not emotionally. This allowed him to dream big, and build a career as an architect and interior designer, focusing first and foremost on what he loved of the work, and paying less concern to the economics of the business. He did many beautiful projects, and some of them made business sense, while all left overwhelmingly happy customers.
This is actually how I found my way to California. John’s mother gave him license to decorate the family home in the 80’s, and I found my way on a boat from Asia to establish and maintain the spiritual balance of the families garden. They gave me quite the spot, and I watched them for many years, hoping to have provided some comfort in times of need. John and his mother were unspeakably close, him having cared for her for many years before she passed.
John never married. He never had a serious relationship that he shared with anyone close to him, including his best friend and chosen family. In this way, he was always emotionally reserved, and showed as much appreciation for the beauty of man, as platonic female company. While John may have understood and resolved more with himself than he shared with others, many stood by, happy to accept whatever he might have been ready to share.
John’s greatest love and his rock in life was his mother, Barbara. She died in 2007, leaving John emotionally devastated, and financially overwhelmed. He never fully recovered from either, and entered a state of reclusion that isolated him from those who loved him most. Luckily, his chosen family barged back into his life to see him off, and had one last chance to remind him how deeply loved he always was.
John came to visit Kulaniapia, one year ago today, on February 26th, 2016, having never been to Hawaii. He was asked to provide counsel to the incoming family about the potential of the property, and whether he thought the two families could do more together than alone. He was quite weak when he arrived, and spent most of his time on the Residence Lanai, and in the Pagoda Guest House, enjoying the peace and serenity of the falls, and taking every opportunity to share how much potential he saw. He flew home to Monterey, CA on March 1st, and after a brief stay at home, found his way to the hospital, and left us on March 13th, 2016.
When John passed, he left a mess to deal with, myself included. I was in Salinas, CA, in storage, with far more owed that I represented in economic value. There were 3 other storage units, with some bonafide treasures in the back, but years of hoarding in the front. His godchildren spent weeks going through everything, saving what treasures they could, donating those they couldn’t, and feeling horrible about the reality that they surely discarded others with great sentimental value John never shared.
That said, we asked for advice on whether our family had a role to play in Kulaniapia, and John gave it in his death. After all was sorted, he had left his godchildren so many treasures, the majority inspired by his love of Asian art. You will find many of these treasures at Kulaniapia today, and may trust there are more to come, once adequately preserved for display.
You will not find a traditional physical memorial in any cemetery, or newspaper obituary for John. You will only find his name here, in this story. His ashes rest with me, mixed in with the concrete pedestal, where I sit, and Speak for you today. You are always welcome to sit with me, and whether you knew John or not, I will do my best to help you find what you are looking for, inside yourself.
After nearly 10 years, alone in a dark warehouse, another voyage across the pacific, and my first helicopter ride, I am so grateful to bring John’s story to light, and provide a sanctuary for his memory and all who seek peace and serenity in the world.
I love you John.