Hawaiians have a beautiful language. Words communicate so much more than just one thought. For example, We all know “aloha”. For most of us it’s just an island greeting. But in the Hawaiian language it’s not just a way to say hello or goodbye, it literally means “the breath of life”. Encompassing love, affection, peace, compassion and mercy. It’s a way to send out kindness, positive intentions and respect to others. That one word embodies a cultural and spiritual significance- the defining force that holds all existence together by encouraging us to live in harmony with the people and land around us.
It doesn’t just mean help it literally means “us”. For Hawaiians Kokua, is a way of interacting with others- to pitch in with kindness no matter what. To extend help to others in a sacrificial way, with no intent of personal gain. A belief that the community thrives only when we all give back and participate.
That’s what we are seeing on the island of Maui after the devastating fire that destroyed Lahaina.
I visited that breathtaking area many times.
For me it brought beauty, calm and an escape from reality. It was a paradise that gave me a chance to relax and release all the tensions of normal day life for just a few precious days.
And now it’s gone.
Wiped out in a blink by a horrifying tragedy that has taken one hundred fourteen lives so far.
Eight hundred and fifty are still missing.
It is the deadliest U.S. fire in over a century.
As it tore through the area many were forced into the water to escape.
Fire has an especially painful place in my heart. When I was young the magnificent Pioneer Hotel burned down, devastating Tucson. To this day I remember seeing the charred remains when I visited my father’s downtown office. I can still hear what I imagine were the screams of those trapped within its walls, while others chose to jump multiple stories in the hopes of surviving. My little girl soul was forever affected by that day.
We weren’t prepared for such devastation. Fire truck ladders couldn’t reach the top floors. Some water hydrants weren’t accessible.
Now it appears Maui had similar issues.
The fires may have been caused by dozens of power grid malfunctions, a nice way of saying those equipment failures actually sparked and then spread multiple fires. Something residents had screamed about it for years as a known, major, safety risk.
It was furthered by poorly run warning systems and empty water lines, with pumps that could not function because of those power grid malfunctions.
When a truck overturned, spewing toxic chemicals recently in Tucson, Arizona, I remember hearing everyone getting an alert on their phones. Within seconds we all knew what happened and the potential dangers if we lived within a certain perimeter. But not in Maui.
And it didn’t stop despicable conspiracy theorists from using a 2018 SpaceX Falcon9 rocket launch picture claiming it was caused by a laser weapon!
It’s inconceivable that preparations weren’t made for something so clearly waiting to happen.
That’s seems to be the mantra of our existence. Put our heads in the sand and hope the problem will either go away or be so delayed as to cause someone else the heartache.
Human beings are rarely proactive. We are reactive. It takes a catastrophe to open our eyes. Yet sadly that only seems to last for the briefest of time. Our anger and indignation at:
Out of control law enforcement
Infringement on voter rights
Destruction of women’s healthcare
Attacks on marginalized groups of people
Cataclysmic weather events
Power grids unable to support the vast numbers of patrons it serves
Is vociferous in the moment but fleeting.
It’s time we actually made the changes we talk about making after every tragedy.
It’s time we made aloha and kokua a part of all our lives.