Only 13 letters make up the unique Hawaiian language. Hopefully, after I’ve lived here 100 years, I will grasp some of it. To make it more confusing, some words have multiple meanings. One word that has many meanings is the word “Aloha.”

Aloha is more than a “hello” or a “goodbye.” Aloha also means “love” and incorporates so much more about a way of life, rather than what the commercial version leads us to believe. It’s the practice of positive communication and fostering harmony and peace in all relationships. The culture is rooted in hospitality and graciousness. Although I am not Hawaiian-born, my pu’uwai – my spirit and the core of my being – is. I grew up with the open spirit of giving and community taught to me by my mother and father.

You don’t have to be from Hawaii or live here to express Aloha. Aloha is being at home where you are. It’s no coincidence that I feel at home on this island. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I grew up, is surrounded by water (on three sides, anyway). Perhaps that is why I felt that strong connection to the Hawaiian culture when I first landed here.  The culture in the U.P. focuses on the land and the people of the land. Hunting and fishing in the U.P. brings food to the table, much like Maui’s culture that is rooted in living off the land. Both places respect Mother Nature; whether it is in the form of a blizzard or a hurricane or how the wondrous and awe-inspiring sunrises and sunsets can fill us with hope.

The people of the U.P. are gracious hosts to visitors, knowing that along with mining and forestry, tourism is a major draw to that area.  Maui is a also tourist destination to people from all over the world. “God’s Country” is the term Yoopers use to describe the U.P. and “Paradise” is what the Hawaiian Islands are commonly referred to. When we came to the island to look for a home our Maui friends insisted we stay in their ohana (guest space/extended family) and made us feel at home here. It reminded me of how many times my parents hosted friends and relatives when they needed a place to stay – sometimes for months or years at a time. Also, every holiday we are here, this same Maui family, the Toys, include us at their dinner table. Sharing holidays with people who are away from their families was something taught to me by my family and I have many happy memories of holidays with our ohana while spending the last 27 years away from my family in Upstate NY. Our ohana is our chosen family of friends and neighbors.

Hawaiians and Yoopers alike cannot be rushed. These are two places where people actually drive UNDER the speed limit–consistently. Nobody is in a hurry and everybody has time for you. For example, in the line at Mana Foods grocery store the checkout clerk and I discovered we were transplants from the same area of Upstate NY. We started “talking story” and long after I paid for my groceries I noticed the line get longer, yet nobody in the line seemed annoyed and the clerk spoke to me like I was the only person in the store. I kept looking back at the line getting longer wondering how long before I got the evil eye, but nobody seemed to care – especially not the checkout clerk. She even came around the counter and gave me a big hug before I left.

People with the Aloha spirit go the extra mile not only to give you directions, but also take you to your destination. I’ve been known to pick up a few hitch-hikers here because not everyone has transportation and after a while you start to see the same faces. One time I picked up a young man on my way to my class and it felt like a speed date. We got to know much about each other in the 15 minutes he was in the truck. He was looking for an apartment to move into and I told him I’d ask the people in my class if they knew of any availability. As it turned out he found one through a student in my class and it worked out. This past Mother’s Day I get a text message on my phone with the message, “Happy Mother’s Day!” from an 808 area code. I thanked this mystery person, but I wanted to know who I was thanking since I didn’t have the name in my phone. It was from that hitchhiker I had given a lift to months before.

Wherever I’ve lived, most people are happy to share what they have, whether it’s from their abundance or their scarcity. Grateful for everything I have, I live with the knowledge that I will always have enough. Enough time, enough money, enough food. Especially enough food! I have been given mangos, papayas, avocados, and oranges from my friends and neighbors’ trees on many occasions. One day, while taking a walk, a neighbor up the road heard me tell another walker how much I like the tropical fruit. He waved to us from his yard and asked if I like star fruit. I mentioned how it’s my favorite so he gave me a paper bag and told me to fill it and take it home. When I told him I could never eat them all before they went bad, he said matter-of-factly, “I’m sure you have friends you can share with.”

Aloha also means gratitude, an awareness of everything around us, and respect for the aina (land) and kama’aina (people of the land). We hired Lihau, a 53 year old Native Hawaiian jack-of-all-trades from Hana, to help us trim some trees in our yard. We learned so much from him in the time he was here. Some of it was about gardening, but he gave us much more than his time and expertise. He shared his Aloha with us. We watched as he assessed the work ahead of him. He walked around the yard, talking about the plants while he touched them telling us about their properties and complimenting their beauty, seeing them through eyes of gratitude. He worked efficiently and artfully as every branch dropped precisely how he intended it to drop saving the surrounding shrubs and tropicals. He shimmied up and down trees balancing himself like a bird while wielding a chain saw. He never bragged or congratulated himself. He was the humble steward of the land, reminding me how the land is not ours to own, but ours to take care of. While working side-by-side with Lihau for hours I got to know a little about him, especially during our coffee and banana bread break. He’s done work for many Maui celebrities, including George Harrison, Kris Kristofferson, Beyoncé, and Kanye West. I told him he could now add the Waara name to the list, we laughed, and he took our picture (I like people with a sense of humor). He also spoke highly of his family – especially his nieces and nephews. He considers himself very blessed because he gets to wake up every day to do what he loves to do. After working he likes to relax a bit and look at the accomplishments of the day. We all shared a meal and before he left for the day he was thanking us for the opportunity to “play.” I felt rewarded by his kind and gentle spirit and sense of community. He leads a life rich with hard work and love – aloha.

Living in Hawaii is a gift. I realize that. But there is no escaping war, hate, power mongering, and greed – it exists here on Maui like everywhere else. Queen Liliu’okalani described the problem well:

I could not turn back the time for the political change, but there is still time to save our heritage. You must remember never to cease to act because you fear you may fail. The way to lose any earthly kingdom is to be inflexible, intolerant, and prejudicial. Another way is to be too flexible, tolerant of too many wrongs and without judgement at all. It is a razor’s edge. It is the width of a blade of pili grass. To gain the kingdom of heaven is to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen, and to know the unknowable – that is Aloha. All things in this world are two; in heaven there is but One.

Aloha starts with each one of us wherever we are. I give thanks to each of you reading this and wish you much Aloha!

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