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When the Light Goes Out

Updated: Aug 13, 2023

I crept out to my backyard, a sliver past midnight, stretched out on a lounge chair, and waited for the show to begin. For thirty years, watching the Perseids Meteor Shower has been a highlight of our summers. When the kids were little, we spread blankets on the trampoline, and laid out in various directions, each watching the sky from different angles looking for the storm of shooting stars. Year to year, our success varied. Yet the memories of us counting, hoping, pleading to stay out for just one more, as our eyes grew heavy, will forever remain with me.

As the first of my three long tailed stars shot across the sky, I found myself absorbed in the mystery of life's opening and closing doors. The events of the 2023 Maui inferno, leading the way of my reflection.

Days Gone By

In 1985, my husband and I, as two young twenty-year-olds, headed for Hawaii. Our first days were spent in Oahu, seeing all the tourist attractions of the time. Three days later, we island hopped to the barely inhabited Maui. Where Oahu, was one non-stop party and attraction center. Maui was nothing but sugar cane, pineapple plantations, and winding roads. We rented a jeep, left the top down, and sped along for miles. Pulling off at random spots to climb into the water and snorkel. The trick of the day for attracting fish was frozen peas. It was on this trip, that we met the historic town of Lahaina.

My She was something. Her brightly colored wood clapboard fronts, the flat roofs, low enough to see the sunset nightly, and the quaint museum that told the story of the reign of a kingdom as old as time were transportive. You forgot where you were, what era it was, and that anything else existed. Aside from the vintage buildings and the glorious shore, stood a stately ancient, gargantuan Banyan tree. Larger than a city block. Welcoming all to rest in her shade and marvel at her ability.

Maui hadn't yet been acquired by mega resorts and centers. This made Lahaina the place to be. It was here we first tasted snowcapped shaved ice. Unbeknownst to us, it was the beginning of a thirty year tradition.

Next Generation

As a couple we wouldn't see Maui or Lahaina again for a few decades. However, in the ensuing years, we had become parents, found new hobbies, and were building new traditions. My husband, now a dad, took his son on a scuba trip back to paradise. Only paradise had changed. Plantations were replaced by shopping centers, neighborhoods, and multi-storied resorts. A twinge of sorrow crept over my husband as he saw it. However, Lahaina in all her queenly glory still existed. He took his son scuba diving in the warm tropical waters, to eat burgers at the best joint in town. To visit art galleries. Naturally, snowcapped shaved ice was required.

Time Again,

Years again sped by, though not as many. All the kids were grown, soaring into their own lives. As the mom, ages past the days of that young couple, I insisted on one last required family vacation. Maui became the destination.

Tons of planning went into the trip. Our two daughters would take intro to scuba lessons. Lunch would be eaten at Morimoto's beautiful restaurant, tucked inside one of those mega resorts. Fresh fruit and produce would be the mainstay food. And of course, nightly snowcapped shaved ice. The best shop for it was in Lahaina.

Nearly everything that week was in Lahaina. Shopping, dinners, galleries, museums, and the best luau, The Old Lahaina Luau, with the sweetest banana bread on earth. The icing on Lahaina's cake was the ever-prolific Banyan tree. Spreading still wider, and welcoming everyone. We had a blast, made unforgettable memories, and vowed we'd return.

The Final Light

Our vow to return came sooner than expected. Our oldest residing neighbor was getting remarried. His first wife died of cancer. He had raised his three kids solo. With all of them grown, he was ready to embark on a new marriage.

Sadly, for us, due to the timing, not everyone in our family could attend. That didn't deter us. The now three decades older couple, and their youngest, adult progeny, willingly made the visit to the island our family adores. We did all the things we loved, ate at Morimoto's, the guy's scuba-dived, I snorkeled. We made our way to Lahaina to wander galleries, eat burgers, grab shaved ice, and visit the Banyan tree. Never guessing what would happen in less than a year.

Without Warning

Out of nowhere, last Wednesday, the sleepy town of Lahaina, was engulfed by flames. Ten months ago, it was unfathomable that in one windswept moment, this joyous tropical town would be decimated by a raging inferno. The years of watching tourists slowly saunter along the boardwalks from one shop or gallery to the next, were gone before the fire began. Hundreds of years of history torched in a heat that melted medal into liquid. My husband read the news of it at five am, that day. The grief showed on his face, in his tear-filled eyes, and the choke in his throat as he shared the horrific news. Everything was gone. As if it had never been. As if all our visits had only been dreams.

Out of the Ashes

With the days of destruction still vivid, and the town barely approachable, we checked the news daily for updates. Landmark after landmark were gone, mere piles of ash and lingering smoke. The dive shop where the scuba gear our family rented is skeletal.

As a shop it wasn't quaint or historic, it didn't even sit on the main drive, yet it was a necessity for scuba, but not now. When looked at through the lens of its gifts to us, the loss becomes monumental. Sure, King Kamehameha didn't shop there, but we did.

The 1919 Fire & Banyan Roots

Over the week, as I hunted and scrolled through our decades of pictures, I came across three, that left hope for Lahaina in my heart. If life is good at anything, it is the stories and analogies it gives us. I look for them all the time, like lucky charms.

In 1919, a similar fire destroyed Lahaina's Main Street. "The wooden buildings that lined Front Street at the time were quickly consumed by fire. Businesses on both sides of the street were destroyed." In an eerie way, history had repeated itself. The Lahaina we knew and loved rose up out of the ashes of the 1919 fire. I didn't know that until 2022. And was only reminded of that fact the other day because I took a picture of the sign.

Which means the Banyan tree survived 1919, and there is great hope that it will survive 2023. But if it doesn't it has left a legacy of lessons. Live large, be open, and grow new roots.

You see, the cleverness of a Banyan tree is that it becomes top heavy as it branches out. It's initial trunk and roots can't sustain it. However, it grows, from the top down, additional trunks, and roots sprout to support each new section.

Over the span of its life, it is undettered by the weight it carries. In fact, I would go far enough to guess that it relishes the chance to branch out, set new roots, and grow some more.

While the world waits for the outcome of the 2023 fire on the beloved Banyan tree, we can look at the roots and growth it and we have spread.

Final Star

This reflection began as long tailed stars shot across the ink dark sky. All stories keep turning. Somehow the losses turn to new growth even when it seems impossible.

If your lights go out, it's okay to mourn them, to seek for them, to clutch their memories close. Because, believe it or not, there will hope in an unseen and unexpected way. Embrace the loss, for it gives value to you and the light you desire. You are worth it.



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