Aloha Spirit

In just three weeks, we’re heading back to Hawaii to visit my family. James likes to say, “Yeahhh, we’re fulfilling our familial duties,” in a tone filled with fake dread because he’s really excited about his first trip to my home state. Over the years, there have definitely been times in which I’ve wished that “home” wasn’t so far away. In graduate school, when everyone flew a few hours or drove home for the holidays, I was preparing for a day of being stuffed into a tiny airplane seat to cross the entire continent and an ocean. But no one feels sorry for you when you’re from Hawaii, nor should they. My birthplace has been a blessing to me my entire life, not just because of its beauty and great weather, but because of the intersection of cultures that I grew up within and because, no matter where I am, the fact that I’m from Hawaii is a doorway to conversation with the unlikeliest of people.

When we came back from Vermont last week, I realized that I was friendlier than I had been in the months prior. At the hotel, everyone we passed smiled and said hello. It was such a simple thing, but it opened up something inside me, and when a woman pushed her cart into me at the grocery store on Monday, I found myself laughing and chatting with her for a minute rather than awkwardly huffing and darting away down the bread aisle. That thing that happened — that lighting up and warmth — that’s what we call the spirit of aloha. Funny to have found it in Vermont.

I can’t wait to see my parents, with whom we’ll go to the farmer’s market before the sun is even up to buy papayas and Manoa lettuce and guava jam so fresh that the jars are warm. And then there’s my niece, who may still be wearing her Thor costume from Halloween, and my nephew, who will tell us all about the new games he’s playing (James is very excited for that part). We’ll chow down with my sister and her husband, listen to lots of island music, and lie on the beach long enough that in the depths of winter we’ll remember what sun on bare skin feels like.

A large part of why Massachusetts feels like home to me is because James has shown me all the things he loves about it. We never needed to go on the Freedom Trail together or on the Salem witch tour for me to fall in love with the things that make this place so completely individual. In the same way, the Hawaii he sees won’t be within the confines of the Waikiki strip. My Hawaii is my family, my friends, the rainforest, all those foods I dream about when I’m out here, sandy floored shops on the North Shore, and afternoon rainbows arching over the Ko’olau mountain range. It doesn’t have a thing to do with hula dancers or tiki torches or, really, roasted pigs. I’m determined to show James the real Hawaii.

But it is his first time. So just this once, we’re going to a luau. How could I say no? “No” isn’t a word that exists within the language of aloha.

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