Erin's Journals

Monday, August 14, 2023

Just a thought… Give the sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o’er wrought heart and bids it break. [William Shakespeare, Macbeth]

A few thoughts today about Lahaina, on the island of Maui in Hawaii, and more to the point, which words I’m glad I didn’t use – but might well have – with the best of intentions.

As you’ve heard by now, there’s been a horrific loss of lives (more than 90 as of Sunday evening) in the beautiful, historic and vibrant town on the west coast of what has always been, to residents and visitors alike, a piece of paradise. Little wonder it was the seat of the Hawai’ian Islands’ royalty in years past.

Razed by a firestorm fuelled by the effects of hurricane winds offshore and the ongoing drought that the island is experiencing, the images of devastation are almost too much to take in. It has become the deadliest natural disaster in US history.

For those of us who have had the great fortune to visit Lahaina, the memories of times spent there are indelible. As news spread of loss and devastation, many people went online to share their thoughts and grief upon seeing images of such a precious place reduced to burnt timbers and ashes.

What surprised me was the backlash from residents of Lahaina and its surrounding areas. People who responded to the hashtag of the town’s name lashed out (understandably in their anger and grief over incalculable personal losses) at those who had posted their memories and sentiments.

Some said words to the effect of, “How dare you make this about you when we have lost everything?” All told tourists to stay the hell away (often in much stronger terms), let unhoused residents take accommodations that visitors had reserved, and just steer clear of the island in general.

The Lahaina disaster has given voice to an already-existing low-key sentiment that hums deep and strong amidst all of the spirit of Aloha! that welcomes you to Hawaii. That is, “Stay Home.” Like so many of our ancestors before us, tourists and settlers (kūwaho, or the stronger pejorative haole) have arrived and spoiled an untouched paradise for the indigenous people of these islands.

It’s not gone unmentioned that so many of the grasses and trees (such as the highly flammable eucalyptus) were brought in and are not native to the area; although climate change has wrought conditions ideal for such a horrific tragedy, there were other man-made elements that added to the potential for the fires to destroy. Many say the islands are now over-developed and the cost of living for those who have called them home for centuries has made even having a roof over their heads nearly impossible.

One may be tempted to say, “But – but – our money is helping your economy!” and although in some ways that is indeed true, this is not the time (if there ever is one) to argue with their anger and anguish. The best thing we can do is give in every way that we can: spatially, financially and with the utmost compassion.

This weekend I learned a word from a friend (Medium Cyndi Tryon) that is about healing, about forgiveness, about acceptance. I’m investigating it more deeply, but this I know: practising it allows us to go back to any transgressions our ancestors may have committed against the ancestors of others or their land, in order to make things right in the here-and-now. It’s Hoʻoponopono – an ancient Hawaiian spiritual practice that involves learning to heal all things by accepting ‘total responsibility’ for everything that surrounds us: confession, repentance, and reconciliation.

As a protocol, Hoʻoponopono is used to squash contention and disputes in a manner that is respectful and thoughtful for all involved parties. This engagement provides an opportunity to acknowledge and take ownership of one’s actions/behaviours so the participants can move forward with honour and integrity. (courtesy University of Hawaii)

In the meantime, CBS News’ websitelists some places, including the US Red Cross, Maui Food Bank and United way, all with links, that will gladly accept our financial support, above and beyond good memories, prayers and well-wishes. You can also donate by visiting the Canadian Red Cross website.

May you have a gentle week.

Rob WhiteheadMonday, August 14, 2023