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To love beyond love: a letter to Hawaiʻi

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Roots

E kuʻu Hawaiʻi,

I want a word for this, for this ache. Maybe the word is “love.” But even “love” comes with expectations and definitions. Even “love” cages and binds us to what is familiar, what is understood, what has already been assigned words. “Love” cannot describe what it is to touch you, to put my hands to your soil and smell you, to wake up curled into your slow-moving silences: a flushed red glow on your mountain, mist caught on your hillsides, sweat dripping. “Love” cannot describe what it is to find comfort in your small spaces, nestled somewhere between red dirt footprints and morning dew, the smell of drenched lauaʻe. No, “love” is far too small a word for this.

My Hawaiʻi, I know you beyond love. I love you beyond love. And while my mind wants a word to explain this feeling to myself, maybe the absence of words is what allows me feel you, to see you without boundary, to know you and I as one. Maybe the absence of words is what keeps me searching for every new way to appreciate you, to rejoice in the very fact of you, to know your moods and shades, what you look like in the shadows of the sun, and then again in the light of the dark. Maybe this, this “something,” is why I cry and shout for you, why I dance and chant of you. Maybe this “something” is every reason I pray.

Hawaiʻi, you’ve taught me that loving you, or knowing you, or what ever “this” is takes courage because with all of “this” there is the inevitability of pain. My stomach churns whenever I see you hit, ripped, targeted by greed, knowing that every sign I hold, and every letter I send, and every protest I stand at cannot erase your scars or relieve the agony of torment. When I see what’s happened to your oceans, your waves impregnated with the runoff of waste and a ravenous hunger for “more,” I want to clear every bit of you, to rub you down, and bathe you. I want to massage away the memories of destruction, soothing every inch of you with my fingertips. When I realize that I’ve heard too many stories spreading the myth of separation—my separation, our separation, from you—I carry the weight of what it has done to you: stagnant waters, severed summits, barren soils. When I know you’ve been wronged, hurt, made to bleed, I want to find your roots and nurture them, bringing each and every one up to my lips to whisper: “crawl, spread, grow; hold her together from the inside.”

You, my Hawaiʻi, you are my ʻāina. You are every thing that “feeds,” that nourishes. But I know that I’ve done damage calling you, and every aspect of you, a “resource.” I’ve centralized my needs, our needs, forgetting that you are far more than what you’ve been used for. You are sacred and special, beautiful and fearsome, able to create and thrive without me. So, sometimes I wonder if my unrelenting passion to protect and “save” you comes from the false notion that you somehow need me. Sometimes I think that that the best way to help you is to let you be, to step out of the way—and to pull everyone else to the side with me—to give you room to breathe and stretch. Sometimes I think that I owe you space and time to heal. And in quiet, solitary moments, I wonder if that’s what it really means to “love” you beyond love.

Oh my Hawaiʻi, I’ve loved and been loved. But I’ve also smothered and been smothered. I’ve been told I’m too intense. I’ve been told my fire is too strong. I’ve been made to believe that this, whatever “this” is inside of me, needs to be tamed. I’ve even been instructed to drink water—to always drink water, to swim in water, to have water around me at all times—to control my flame. Because sometimes, my Hawaiʻi, I burn. And sometimes I hurt. But, while I tried for so many years to squelch this, to suppress this, to swallow this even while it blistered my throat, you showed me that the same intensity that is overwhelming for some is what allows me to love you beyond all love. It is what allows me to find you in spaces where words don’t exist, where they can’t exist.

It is to those spaces, my Hawaiʻi, that I will always return. I may leave, but it is only to dip into deep blues, to find myself in waves, to arrive at stones, ready to taste them. It is to learn to love all the way I love you: beyond. Tomorrow I leave for another place, for a land of long white clouds and the view of skies through pohutukawa branches. And I know that in time I will come to ache for this place and for others the way I ache for you, to want to protect them the way I want to protect you, to want to take my lips to their roots, whispering. I know in time that I will allow myself to be loved in return, to be seen beyond words, to be open to the pain of a fierce and brave connection. And it will be, all of it will be, because you loved me beyond love, in every shade, in every small space, and in every slow-moving silence of the morning.

Me ke aloha pau ʻole,
Emalani

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