“Go go back to your office and write.”
Sandy and I were drinking Mother’s Day Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee on our patio on a beautifully cool-for-June North Carolina early on June morning—our two Brittanys at our feet. I said to her, “Shug, all that’s going on these days is making me depressed.”
She said, “Go go back to your office and write.”
So here I am. At my iMac. Staring straight ahead. Fingers on the home keys as I was dutifully taught in Typing I as a sophomore at Semmes High School.
Where to start? How about somewhere happy? I find it interesting that when melancholia invades our world, words are its first victim, yet when we are happy, words flow like Pele’s lava to the ocean. Once I had decided to write about a time when I was unusually happy Where I was happy was an easy decision—the day we became Hawaiians at Heart.
Hawaii is unique to us. Like no other place in our world. How special? Visit our house and Israel Kamakawiwoʻole—pronounced ka-maka-vivo-ole and known worldwide as merely Iz—will likely be playing on the stereo. We don’t know the Hawaiian words he is singing about, but it doesn’t matter. The feeling of peace and happiness and a touch of wistful longing always comes through.
Hawaii had never been that place that we just somehow had to find the money to go visit. So, we never did. It just never held the kind of pull of a fishing and waterskiing holiday on Lake Martin, Alabama where we lived for twelve years in our 30s and 40s, and where family, football, band, and bass fishing occupied any small amount of time left in my high school principal’s life. No complaining—then or now.
We did actually travel a lot—mostly on Fall Friday nights to away football games and Saturday mornings to band contests.
We moved to Charlotte and joined the UNC Charlotte faculty in the College of Education, and as fate would have it, I was offered the chance to travel to Germany with the College on an exchange trip in my second summer at UNCC. The trip was the end of June. I applied for my passport in early March—THE express option. I feared that word express was the kiss of death. And true to my premonition, my passport arrived the day after the UNCC group flew to Germany. You just gotta love bureaucracy!
With school back in session for the next Fall Semester, I approached the Dean about how I should handle the unused ticket to Germany. She had been a little miffed that I missed the trip, and I thought she might still be pissed. Instead, she told me to use the ticket to fly to a conference that looked interesting to me.
Staying true to the original purpose of the ticket of spreading the joy of UNC Charlotte across the world, I looked for a conference far away from Charlotte. I found one in Honolulu, and it had international in its name: The Hawaii International Conference on Education. It came after Christmas and lasted five days that spanned New Year, too. Could I really get this thing approved—a conference in paradise? I did, and in one day on the island, Sandy and I immediately fell Maui Jims over flipflops for Hawaii—and especially its people.
Every other year after that (I didn’t want to overdo a good thing), I presented a paper or two at The Hawaii International Conference on Education. On our second visit, we came in early after Christmas and flew over for a day trip to the Big Island of Hawaii and a tour of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Kilauea, steam vents, lava tubes, and met Pele. Returning to the conference was not quite as exciting, but it was in Honolulu! Not bad. Not bad at all.
We were hooked but good.
Two years later, we came a week early and boarded a cruise ship that took us to each of the islands. Sail at night. Wake up to a new view of paradise the next morning. Spend a day and a half exploring. I will spare you my descriptions of the uniqueness of every island. However, Maui remains with me because it changed me spiritually.
Our native Hawaiian tour bus driver took us to the sacred Iao Valley and the Iao Needle—telling us as he drove the winding trails why it held such a special place in the spiritual being of every Hawaiian. At the foot of the Iao Needle, we understood. And we became Hawaiians at Heart.
And now, the conundrum. Hawaiians, overwhelmingly and enthusiastically Christian, are also equally spirit-people of the land. They hold both beliefs similarly with no contradiction. This is the price a haole (the Hawaiian term for people who are not Native Hawaiian or Polynesian) must understand and embrace if they are to become Hawaiian at Heart.
When our fiftieth anniversary approached, we knew there was only one place that we would go. The choice was natural. We traveled to Kauai (on our dime!) and spent three remarkable weeks on the island. Kauai’s unique attraction is that it is most like the original islands because when sugar cane became no longer profitable, the land was returned, in large part, back to the natural beauty of its unspoiled past. And, its long-ago kings and queens spoke a silent, Thank You.
Oh, there are plenty of condos and resorts, but not like the other islands. On Kauai, one can walk miles of unspoiled beaches, but the only way you can see the most and best waterfalls of all the islands is by helicopter, and the only way to take in the beauty of the Ka Pali cliff is by boat. No big towns on Kauai, but many little jewels, and miles of unspoiled beaches.
One cannot write about Hawaii without admiring the native Hawaiians. Few people in our nation’s growth have been as poorly treated as the Hawaiians. The Kings and Queens were so gracious, and the U.S. was so voracious. There is homestead land available on every island, but it is so small, and its native beneficiaries tend to be in middle age before they have their precious land returned to their care. Still, they love being American. The most patriotic of any state I have visited.
I know they must have many regrets, but the heart of being a Hawaiian is a kindness that defies all explanation. A kindness that visitors, if they become Hawaiians at Heart, must return to their own homeland and practice that Hawaiian-like kindness.
Ahhhh. My spirit is refreshed. I trust the views below will refresh yours as well. Mahalo and Aloha, my friends.