Hawaii, the land of Aloha

Posted by Elizabeth Forst in Life After Paralysis on February 13, 2018 # Mobility, Travel

Hawaii is the land of beautiful… colorful rainbows, crystal clear turquoise water, delicious fresh organic produce, beautiful sunny days, coconuts hanging from beach laden palm trees, cool ocean breeze and some of the most majestic and beautiful sunsets you ever laid eyes on. It truly takes your breath away. Sunsets are a natural part of the day in Hawaii, both tourists and locals alike stop their day at sunset to observe the sun' s descending into the Pacific Ocean like a red fireball dropping into the blue turquoise water to be cooled down for a night's sleep.

One particular evening while I was recently visiting Maui Hawaii, I was on a mission to join the locals in watching a beautiful sunset. With 35 minutes to go, my caregiver and I raced to a little beach park off the main road with a small cooler of Kona beer and some Maui onion chips, you know – proper sunset provisions. The parking lot was packed, and you could tell this was a local’s spot as everyone was enjoying Friday happy hour with all of their families grilling it up while watching the sun drop into the ocean. Within minutes of our arrival, the family to our left came over and introduced themselves, in broken Japanese English, asking us if we wanted anything to eat or drink. The man was wearing a Hawaiian Warriors T-shirt, board shorts and flip-flops, beer in one hand and tongs in the other hand as he was grilling up huge shrimp on the barbecue as his family set up for a Friday night dinner, Hawaiian style. Even though we politely declined, plates of grilled shrimp, homemade Japanese musubi and delectable fat dripping steak hot off the barbecue were being handed our way, offering and feeding us their dinner before even providing themselves their own. His kindness was felt deep in our hearts and we were once again reminded of what the locals like to call the "aloha spirit". If only this could exist everywhere.

Our newfound friend, his name was Ai, told me he was the resident Buddhist monk in the local town down the street. This surprised me, as he wasn't in traditional Buddhist garb, as you would imagine. Remember, he was drinking beer, wearing a T-shirt and board shorts in flip-flops. Either way, I realized quickly this was a special man, a modern-day medicine man, whom I was honored to meet. His kindness and positive energy was almost palpable as he continued to put his gentle hand on my shoulder, bowing and saying "thank you, thank you". Knowing that this was a Japanese expression of appreciation and respect, I bowed back as much as I could in my wheelchair. It was quite a moment.

At the end of our very short time together, he confided to me in very broken Japanese English that he once played football in Japan many years ago. He had two very close friends that both had spinal cord injuries where one broke his neck up high like me, leaving him a quadriplegic and in a power wheelchair. His other friend broke his back halfway and is now also in a chair but paraplegic. By seeing and meeting me, it flooded his memory bank of all of his times with his friends… realizing how difficult life can be sometimes. You could see the sadness but complete understanding on his face and within his eyes. It was like an instant connection between the two of us, whom one hour earlier were complete strangers. It was an overwhelming moment that brought me to tears.

He told me that from a Buddhist perspective, even if there is some kind of physical dysfunction like a broken spinal cord or cancer or depression, and there is much suffering in that existence… it is finding the happiness within this situation that is the heart of the matter. Finding happiness within suffering. I can't stop thinking about that, because no matter what type of suffering whether it is mental, physical or emotional, it is looking through the crystal from a different facet and seeing that happiness is truth and all that we should aspire for. For if we are not happy, what is life worth living for? It was like I was just given a small but incredibly important gem of life by a complete and total stranger… All the while watching one of the most beautiful sunsets I observed while there. The sun descended behind another island sending out angelic, God like sun rays with an afterglow that depicted the sky the color of cotton candy and lavender fields.

My new friend invited me to visit his Buddhist temple in Lahaina before I left the island. It is not every day that you come upon such kindness in such randomness. And honestly, our meeting was probably not random at all, it was meant to be. To remind me to always find the happiness.

I hope you can find happiness also… Happy aloha Friday from my beautiful place!

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.