"What does Aloha mean?" I ask Positive B., a friend and Hawaii resident, as we watch the sun sink into the Pacific from our east-Maui campsite.
"It means different things," he says and rattles off a list Aloha's myriad definitions, including "hello" and "goodbye" and "good luck." But mostly, as I understand my companion, Aloha is the spiritual aura of Hawaii—a pupu platter of geniality that includes kindness, grace, empathy and respect for the islands and the people.
"Like when that woman helped save your life today," says B. "That was Aloha."
Oh wait, did I just bury the lead? Sorry about that. Yeah, turns out, I came pretty close to dying a few hours earlier, in Hana, off KokÄ« Beach, caught in a tidal vortex over a bed of volcanic rock.
Now, I would like to pause a moment to say that you will not be reading about my near-death experience today. Because this is one of those, "to be continued" type columns. Yeah, I know, it's an assholish thing to do, but there's more to the story of my almost drowning than the fact that I almost drowned.
"Hawaii will chew you up and spit you out if you don't respect her," warns The Poz, as a grey-black tempest collects over the ocean and advances on our poor excuse of a campsite. "There's just too many ways to die here."
And, oh yes, there is no doubt in my mind that Maui tried to murder me to death today. And the reason is because I had not yet fully exhibited the Aloha spirit about which B. is preaching.
Etymologically, "Alo" means "to share." "Oha" means "to show affection or friendship." And "H?" means "life and or breath." When you blurt "Aloha" to, say, the barrister of a local coffee shop, you're not just saying "Hello." You're saying "Braddah! How about we take a moment to ponder the magic and the mystery of Hawaii—consider all that islands give and all they take and never forget that it is Papa Volcano who furnaces the universe and we are but drops of lava in a collective flow which trickles down the crevasses of our existe... um, uh—can I get a mocha latte please? Mahalo."
The point is, Aloha is patient and it is humble. A frat boy haole visiting Maui for spring break to get with the surfer babes would never understand Aloha. And while I have never been a member of a college fraternity, I will cop to a level of frat boyliness—an occasional drunken lout with a fat mouth and a tendency toward impatience. However there is another side of me—an introspective, world traveler-type—who respects the people and culture of wherever I visit and who very much wanted to be one with Aloha. Unfortunately, the feeling was not mutual, because right off the bat, Maui started fucking with me.
Like this one time at Baby Beach—thus named because the water is calm enough for infants—I was struck by an impossible 4-footer that came out of nowhere. I turned to look at the shore then turned back and bam! Baby Beach bitch slapped the sunglasses right off my face, pulled them out to sea, and are now no doubt being worn by a tourist in Okinawa.
There was the second degree burns and blisters that Maui gave my feet because I had the audacity to walk barefoot on black pavement (Hawaii is hot in July!) for a mere 10 seconds.
There was the kamikaze mango, which came swooping down from the tree beneath which I was walking and landed at my feet. When it hit the pavement it sounded like an inebriated frat boy diving from a roof into an empty swimming pool. There was also The Branch—and by "branch" I mean 400 pound log—that fell onto the curvy and dangerous Road to Hana mere seconds before B. and I arrived, blocking our passage.
I mean, if Maui wasn't trying to manslaughter me, it was certainly sending a message. And that message was, "Get out, brah!!" But see, I never heard her message, which is why—I guess—Aloha tried to assassinate me to death.
KokÄ« Beach is situated on the east side of Maui, near Hana. The east side is what you think of when you think of a tropical island. It's plush, gorgeous and deadly. Especially the beaches. And, oof, did KokÄ« Beach have its killing field! Indeed, an Albuquerque tourist drowned in May. And before that the Hana Fire Department rescued a woman clinging to a rock. I didn't know any of this at the time. All I knew was that it was freaking hot and I needed to get into that water ASAP!
And this must have been when Maui had had enough of my horseshit. Because the minute B. and I got onto that sand—as wantonly as I shucked my socks, shoes and shirt—I shucked what little Aloha I had and sprinted toward the water. See, the beach tends to bring out my inner, impatient frat boy. And Frat Boy Ed doesn't stop to observe the break before diving in. Frat Boy Ed doesn't study where the other swimmers are avoiding. Frat Boy Ed doesn't notice any of the multi-colored wooden signs that say, "ALOHA VISITOR. THIS BEACH IS DANGEROUS. COUNTLESS DROWNINGS AND NEAR DROWNINGS OCCUR. PLEASE BE SAFE . . ."
Frat Boy Ed just jumps into the waves with a big, frat boy splash, not even remotely aware that a vast quarry of igneous, volcanic rock is waiting below...
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Edwin Decker blogs at www.edwindecker.com. Follow him on Twitter @edwindecker or find him on Facebook.
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