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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Akaka

Love. Life. Lahaina.

The fires in Maui weigh heavy on my heart. I knew I wanted to write about them, but I couldn’t find the words to say. Sadness, loss, and tragedy overwhelmed my senses and the kind messages from friends and colleagues reminded me of how much I love and miss Hawaii, my home. Although I didn’t grow up on Maui and my family wasn’t directly impacted by the fires, the stories of friends of friends and thoughts of people swimming out to the ocean and running out of cars to escape the deadly flames haunt me. As I thought about what I could say to help myself and others process this horrific event, three words repeatedly ran through my mind. Love. Life. Lahaina.

Love. Aloha means love. Not a fleeting or temporary love. Not a complicated or rollercoaster love. It’s a constant, steady love that is deeply rooted in the soil beneath our feet – love for the land on which we stand, the air we breathe, and the people who breathe it with us. It is a respect for nature and humanity that outweighs convenience and satisfaction, overshadows glory and prosperity. Aloha is a love that saturates our being and sustains and spreads our culture across time and space. It cannot be destroyed by hurricanes or fires. It shows up when people support a family suffering and a community lost. It will rebuild homes, heal hurt, and revive a town in need.

Life. The loss of life is difficult to accept and often impossible to understand. As we grieve the lives lost to these fires, we are gifted a glimpse of life in the form of a banyan tree. An expert arborist says the 150-year-old tree is in a coma and life still exists under the scorched surface. There is hope. This tree is more than a wonder of nature, it is a source of life. The roots that weave above and below the surface of the earth reveal the arteries of a heart and the origins of life well lived – a place to play, rest, relate, and love. The long-term survival of this tree is unknown, but its history as the lifeblood of a community is unquestionable.

Lahaina. This town is the essence of both love and life. If you have never spent time in Lahaina, I’m sorry. Hawaii has many beautiful places, people, and experiences, but Lahaina is special. Magical. I was only in Lahaina on a few occasions, but it has always been my favorite place on Maui and the memories of the sounds, the breeze, and the best mahi on earth (thank you Kimo’s) will remain in my heart forever. Lahaina is the past, the present and, perhaps now more than ever, the future. The outpouring of generosity of time, money and supplies to help the people displaced by the leveling of this town and the stories shared in person and online reveal a world-wide love for Lahaina, its community, and its culture.

I believe the beauty of Lahaina lives on in the ashes, but rebuilding the town will take time, patience and an abundance of love. There will be many moments of grief and anger, desperation and defeat, questions and blame. After all, we’re human. Humanity is both triumph and tragedy, life and death. I hope and pray that the roots of the banyan tree will survive to carry on the love and life that sustained this beautiful town for over 150 years, repair the damage that has been done, and heal the hurt that is yet to come.

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