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Prayers for Maui

Prayers for Maui
From the PorchBy Amber Nagle
Prayers for Maui
From the PorchBy Amber Nagle

I remember hearing a Polynesian legend when my husband and I traveled to Hawaii in 2020, just before the COVID pandemic shut down the world. The islanders spoke of Maui, a demigod with superhuman abilities, who raised beautiful islands from the floor of the Pacific Ocean, lifted the sky to snare the sun, and created fire — all to benefit mankind. But the people of the Hawaiian island that bears mighty Maui’s name were powerless last week when faced with the sudden, deadly wildfires that raced violently across the island, driven by winds from an offshore hurricane.

Many had no time to escape the fire. Others ran toward the water and jumped into the safety of the deep blue Pacific. The Coast Guard rescued dozens of people as they bobbed up and down in the rolling waves and watched the village of Lahaina — their home — vanish in the raging inferno. One minute, the people of Lahaina were going about their days (grocery shopping, folding clothes, working, etc.), and the next minute, without warning, they were fighting for their lives — all the while wondering where their loved ones were and hoping family and friends made it out alive.

From the safety of our sofa in northwest Georgia, my husband and I watched the news coverage of the wildfire over the weekend. They showed the shocking before and after shots, and we grieved to see the charred rubble where buildings and homes once stood. Then he and I reminisced about visiting the friendly village in 2020 and standing underneath the sprawling branches of the town’s banyan tree.

The tree was planted in 1873. Banyans are known for their unusual network of branches that grow outward and descend, forming more roots, from which new trunks emerge. When we were there, we marveled at its many trunks and its leafy canopy that covered over half an acre. A sign in the park noted that the tree was thought to be the largest banyan tree in the United States.

But the wildfire engulfed the Lahaina banyan tree in flames, and it is too early to know if the tree will survive. It’s probably gone forever.

Next, we talked about the people we met in Lahaina on vacation that year. Tourism is a way of life there, and they welcomed us with open arms and love. We ate at their restaurants and shopped in their businesses. We shared and laughed with them. I bought a wooden carved whale’s tail — a souvenir — from an older Hawaiian man on our last night on vacation. The craftsman posed with me and taught me to fold my fingers into the shaka hand gesture — curling my three middle fingers while extending my thumb and baby finger.

Amber and Gene Nagle in front of a magnificent banyan tree in Lahaina. The big trunk behind them covers over half an acre. continued from page

He said, “This is a friendly hand symbol that means, ‘thank you,’ or ‘things are great.’” But things are not great there now. The death toll is in the nineties now, and there are hundreds who are unaccounted for — who may never be accounted for. The search for bodies continues, and no doubt, the final count of fatalities will be even more soul crushing.

As for the survivors, what’s left for them? They have been left homeless, and since most employment revolved around the tourism industry, I suppose most have also lost their means to support their families. Some have nothing but the clothes on their backs. My heart aches and breaks for them.

As for the beauty, well, this paradise has been lost. It will take years and years to recover and rebuild. And it will take a lot of resources.

So many of us have visited Hawaii, and the Maui people in particular have been so hospitable — sharing their island with us and taking care of us while we are there. It’s our turn to extend some Southern love and generosity to these people who have showered us with kindness and island spirit. If you are the praying type, I ask you to send up some prayers for the people of Maui. They’ll need a lot. As for me, I’m also sending a donation today. If you want to help financially, too, please consider donating to the Hawaii Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund (www. hawaiicommunityfoundation. org/maui-strong).


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