My heart goes out to the residents of Maui who lost loved ones and livelihood, pets and property in this week’s fire. To have witnessed one’s own community go up in flames must have been so horrific. Seeking shelter in the ocean or abandoning a car to scramble from the flames must have been terrifying. Mahalo.
Lahaina, a historic town on the western end of Maui, is a place of special memories for me and my husband. We spent our honeymoon on Maui and explored this little town with its shops and smiles and Hawaiian hospitality. Then we spent several days here again in late 2019 (before the world shut down) celebrating a special anniversary for my in-laws.
Being a history buff, I particularly appreciated the town’s historical landmarks: The Baldwin House, a missionary home dating back to 1834; Waiola Church, dating back two hundred years; the entire village of Lahaina dates back to early 1800s as the capitol of the Kingdom of Hawaii and a whaling station that attracted sailors and missionaries alike.
In recent days, I have found solace in the personal memories we share with this sliver of paradise. We have plunged in the photo albums and reminisced about our time there. I have also remembered the artists I discovered there: Jim Kimo West’s melodic slack-key guitar; Kathleen Alexander’s giant watercolors of plumeria and orchids; the Jewelry Stand with their aqua-colored larimar stones; the Mala Tavern with their artful food with sweet Taro bread, all served on the edge of the water.
But it was the 150-year-old Banyon tree in Courthouse Square that captured my imagination on our honeymoon in 2007. It is believed that this tree was the largest of its kind in the United States. The tree spreads its branches out over a quarter-mile circumference, inviting pedestrians to walk among its embrace. It is an anchor in the middle of town, situated in front of the Old Courthouse that is no more.
As I scoured the news reports for updates on people and places, I couldn’t help but seek out a glimpse of the tree to confirm its continued existence, praying that it had defied the odds of being reduced to a pile of ash. Thankfully, there does appear to be evidence that this tree still stands but is badly wounded.
As a writer, I always consider the places I visit as “setting.” Understanding the culture, the history, the natural surroundings, the economy of a place helps me understand the people. Lahaina was a place that held a richness in all of these elements.
Yes, the town can rebuild. Steel and wood can be erected in the image of the town’s former self, concrete can be poured to welcome tourists on its sidewalks, and new roofs can be raised in this little town by the water. The history of this town can be revived from the memory of its people. That’s the American spirit.
While the beauty and culture and history will be difficult to replace, humans are uniquely equipped to heal and repair. But even as I won’t deny the hope that I wish for the community to rebuild, I also recognize the irreplaceable loss of history and place and treasures of a diverse people.
Still, it’s the lives lost that cannot be replaced. The holes left in the hearts of their families cannot be refilled. The memories of them will be all that remain. The bit that I grieve for this lovely town I knew only as a tourist is but a small drop compared to the weight of the anguish over their loss.