In which we learn about Aloha

“Aloha to the Hawaiians of old of was ‘God within us.’ It means come forward, be in unity and harmony with your real self, god, and mankind. Be honest, truthful, patient, kind to all forms of life, and humble.” -Kawika David Blaikai

In Hawaiʻi someone can be said to have or show aloha in the way they treat others; whether family, friend, neighbor or stranger. In the Hawaiian language, aloha  means affection, love, peace, compassion, and mercy. Namaste, Peace, Salaam, and Shalom have similar meanings.

According to Wikipedia, A folk etymology claims that it derives from a compound of the Hawaiian words alo meaning “presence”, “front”, “face”, or “share”; and ha, meaning “breath of life” or “essence of life.” Although alo does indeed mean “presence” etc., the word for breath is spelled with a macron or kahakoō over the a (hā) whereas the word aloha does not have a long a.

It has also come to mean both hello and goodbye, but the meaning is much deeper than that.  But then, shouldn’t we always greet others and bid our goodbyes with the spirit of Aloha?  We received an unexpected and inspiring reminder of that during our stay in Maui.  It started with a stop in Pa’ia for some pizza after a day at the beach.

The Flatbread Company in Pa’ia has tasty pizza, and provides entertainment to hungry kids by giving them crayons and paper to keep them occupied.  Nibsy was very eager to have her artwork selected to adorn one of the menus and this time, she got her wish.

The restaurant has long tables with benches.  At first we were sitting, just the four of us, at one end of a long table.  Before too long, a party of six people joined us at our table. The server let Niamh know that her newly created menu artwork would be viewed for the first time by our new neighbors.  And do you know? They were some of the nicest folks we’ve met.  Ever.

Doug encouraged Niamh to sign and date her artwork, handing it back to her so she could do just that, and then placing it gently back inside the menu.   And we all fell into a very pleasant conversation.

Nibsy is more than a little obsessed with fairies.  Di scooted down the bench to chat with her more easily and they discussed all things fairy at length.

And, then, to our very pleasant surprise, we learned that the man sitting at the very end of our table, was none other than Ram Dass.  I had thought he looked familiar but couldn’t place him. Would we like to meet him? Well of course!

And so Ed took the girls over to say hello, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, “aloha”.  Nibsy, our own little chatterbox,  told Ram Dass all about her plans to write a book.  He asked her in complete seriousness what kind of books she writes.  “I like to write poems”, was her response.

Ram Dass was completely lovely.  When I walked up to meet him myself, I was struck by the light and brightness in his eyes.  And I cannot begin to explain my joy in seeing the two, a respected teacher and my first born child, hit it off.  It was, in many ways, the realization of my hopes for her before she was even born.  It’s why, upon first hearing the name Niamh, an Irish Gaelic name with ancient and mythological roots, that it resonated with me-especially when I learned its meaning: light, brightness, radiance.

I think that words are important, as important as actions.  And I believe that the power of language is very real. The Whorf-Sapir hypothesis, also known as the principle of linguistic relativity, is an idea I learned as an undergraduate Anthropology student, which posits that the structure of a language affects the world view of its speakers (the way in which they conceptualize the world).  This theory has fallen in and out of favor in anthropology over the years, but I continue to believe that Benjamin Whorf and Edward Sapir were on to something when they came up with it.

That is why the conversation we shared in Pa’ia, filled with insight and positivity, made a lasting impact.  And that I cannot help but feel we were visited by a very happy accident, and one helped along, once again, by a creative impulse.

Photo credits: Doug and Rebecca

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