The healing power of being back home. (An essay submitted to World Nomads for a chance at a 10-day trip to Australia)
Hey, friends! Here is an essay I just submitted to World Nomads for a chance to be mentored by travel writers. This is the longer version of it as I had to REALLY shorten it due to length requirements. I tend to write pretty passionately and I had a hard time removing more than 2/3 of the original. (Also, I thought it was 2,500 words, NOT 2,500 characters. Ha!) I’ve never done this before and I hope to be given the chance to partake in this opportunity. If not, I am just grateful to have explored my style of writing as I struggled with telling this story. Feel free to let me know what you think. Thank you very much for reading! 🙂
The ocean is still blue. The air is still heavy with humidity. The trees still dance the hula partnered with the wind. Nothing’s really changed, but I am no longer the naive innocent who left this island for adventure and the unknown. Ten years later and Hawaii still welcomes me back. I’m back in Hawaii for my grandfather’s funeral and I find myself thinking of the past few months. Emotions taking over like I’ve never experienced.
As soon as we got off the plane, my father and brother were there to welcome my sister and me. The mood was not melancholy, but not in high spirits either. The heat washes over me. Nothing like the cool, crisp air back in Seattle. The long hugs almost bringing me to tears. Hurrying to get the luggage into the truck, we are soon heading towards our favorite family Chinese restaurant for some dim sum.
With the windows down, palm trees and heat-stricken faces pass us by. The latest Hawaiian pop song flows from the radio playing the local radio station. I almost forgot how upbeat this music was. Ten minutes after we left the airport, Chinatown approaches.
The rest of the family was already seated and had eaten by the time we got there. The smells of the restaurant bring back memories of past family gatherings: birthdays, anniversaries, and graduation dinners. As we greeted each other, tears started flowing talking about how we missed each other and how much Lolo (what we called our grandfather) loved us all. We ate in fond companionship, having sweet conversations and humble “catching-up”. Questions are suddenly aimed at me.
“What are you up to now?”
“Where are you working?”
“How’s life in Seattle?”
I can’t even begin to start telling them what’s going on right now. But this weekend is not about me so I try to divert the subject from me to consoling my loved ones. All of us gathered from various places: Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles. All of us together again.
As we finish up lunch, the aunts and uncles coordinate plans to finish up getting ready for the next day’s viewing. I, on the other hand, made plans to climb a mountain. My sister and I leave the family to their errands as we take a car to the Windward side.
We drive up the Pali Highway cutting through the center of the island. The superstition here is that if you drive over the Pali with raw meat or pork, your car will stall, even if you know that your car is in tip-top shape. Luckily, my sister and I are only carrying water and wine.
The island seems different on this side. The land is much less crowded with buildings and the ocean is a step away from the backyards of the homes along the shore. And just a 180-degree turn away from the water is the lush green walls of mountain slopes. In just an hour or so, we are going to be overlooking it all from atop that mountain slope.
My sister parks the car at the bottom of a street and we make our way to the trailhead of the Lanikai Pillboxes. The trail begins steeply among rocks and tree roots sticking out of the soft dirt. The weather had been damp and the rocks and dirt had shaken loose. We make our way up carefully. The treacherous steep path didn’t last long. Before we knew it we were trekking a ridgeline to the first pillbox.
The pillbox bunkers up here were once used during WWII to scout for incoming attacks. Made of concrete that once stood prestigiously grey, they are now covered in paint and graffiti colorfully guiding us towards the viewpoint on which it stands.
The trail is not very crowded with people as we stop for photo ops along the way, asking them to take our photo and taking their photos in exchange. Halfway to the first pillbox the view is already spectacular! Mountain ranges in front of me, the blue Pacific to the left and the quiet valleys to my right.
We reach the first pillbox where a group of about 10 friends and strangers are enjoying the view and taking photos. My sister and I take a couple quick shots and make our way to the second pillbox for another view and hopefully less people.
By now the wind has picked up a bit relieving us of some of the heat radiating from our bodies as we hike another 20 minutes along the ridgeline to the next pillbox. I wonder as we make our way through, “How did the soldiers carry their supplies up this hill?” My troubles all of a sudden seem so small.
The second pillbox is like the first’s twin, similar in size and covered in the same paint and graffiti. There are less people here so we stop to sit and marvel at Oahu’s beauty. Over to our left is Kailua. To the front of us is the vast Pacific Ocean where the Mokulua Islands reside. One of them we call Chinaman’s Hat because its shape resembles the hat worn by the Chinese who once worked in the farms. We see more mountain ranges to our right and behind us and we just marvel at the beauty of Hawaii in this 360-degree view. In the distance towards Kailua the dark clouds hover and we witness a patch of heavy rain drench a section of the valley. It then makes its way inland towards the mountains. I have never seen nature’s workings like that. It was really cool to see. My sister and I take a sip of Red Diamond Merlot, commemorating the completion of our hike.
We sit in stillness, appreciating it all.
As we make our way back, this short 2-mile hike had us realizing that the weekend ahead of us is about family. To remind each other that life is full of moments that will bring us down to our lowest point and up to our highest high and everything in between. But no matter what, the people who matter most will be there for you at moment’s notice.
How did I end up here? I tried to escape this island paradise for a clean slate, for a chance to discover what my life is meant for. Family conflicts, making new friends in a strange city, and relationships paired with heartache have littered my path that brought me back to my island home. Sometimes you have to come home to reel yourself back and remind yourself where you came from, how you came to be. You can’t “escape” it. It’s part of you. It’s caused me to conclude, in light of these events, life is going to give you challenges and you either cower in helplessness or fight back and grow your character. Home will always be there to welcome me and comfort me in its familiar bosom. But, I cannot give in. There is just too much world for me to experience. My journey has just begun. It’s exciting and scary, but I can’t wait to experience what the world has to offer.