I wanted to write this post immediately on returning from Hawaii, but for some reason, I couldn’t. Some things need a little time to settle. On our last day, Cass and I woke up early, packed up our things and drove with the top down to Pu’uhonua O Honaunau. It’s a national historic park, south of Kona. The name means place of refuge. It’s been a sacred site for centuries. People who broke the law (often punishable by death) could be redeemed if they reached this place and performed some rites prescribed by a priest. Instead of being killed, they could rejoin society.
When Cass and I arrive, the site is closed due to high surf and high winds from the preceding day. In following with MY tendency to ask forgiveness rather than permission, and in the absence of park rangers, we step over the yellow caution tape and tour ourselves around the site. We are only mildly scolded by the ranger when she shows up an hour later. The site feels sacred, especially in the early morning light. It’s quiet—only the sound of the waves breaking on the rocky shore and the calls of exotic-sounding birds. Sunlight streams through stands of large coconut trees. Even the paths we walk are a beautiful mix of white coral and black lava rock pebbles. The peacefulness of the is place and the morning is the perfect benediction to our days in paradise.
There is an audio tour available that we don’t do, partly because we don’t have time but mostly because that’s not the point. I was here several years ago and I remember carefully reading all of the history of this place. I don’t remember all of the facts, but I know I reviewed it. Even so, what really stuck with me was the feeling of the place. That’s what I want to relive and that’s what we get. There is something to be said for enjoying the vibrations of a place and letting the intellectual things go.
We get back in the car and drive the forty-five or so minutes to the airport. I put on the Moana soundtrack. We are inspired by an outrigger canoe that was on display at the historic site. I can’t believe I have been in Hawaii for eight days without thinking to listen to it. So Cass and I are driving along past the coffee farms and tourist shops, tearing up as we sing along with Moana.
Moana was released the same year I separated from my ex-husband. R was only one year old then and he loved that movie. I’m not sure how many times we watched it together, but it was somewhere between fifty and two-hundred-and-fifty, for sure. R has moved WAY on from that movie and those days, but I think Moana will always be a part of me.
The story of her journey beyond the reef felt like an echo of my story. I chose to heed a calling that was not what I had planned for myself. I was raised to believe that marriage is forever. I set out to make it so, and then I realized there was something more important than commitment and expectation. It was God’s love for me and my love for me.
The excitement she feels as she crosses the reef and finds herself on the path she was destined for—I felt that too. I had moments of giddiness as I found my new freedom. And then, almost as suddenly as the turn that tips her canoe, I would be face planted into grief or fear or anger. The surge of euphoria followed by a terrifying descent into pain was like being tossed on an angry sea. Like Moana, I learned that this rolling ocean was actually a friend of mine. I learned that I could lean into the victories, without anticipating the drop into the next defeat. I learned—and am still learning—to sail the unforgiving sea.
The song that always sinks deepest into my heart, is when Moana is visited by the spirit of her deceased grandmother. Here’s the clip in case you are not familiar with it:
I learned this lesson alongside my Polynesian cartoon counterpart: The call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside me. I had always considered God to be some exterior being, telling me his will, and it was my job to tune into his channel and then execute the orders. I think that IS how a lot of people experience God. But it’s totally changed for me now. God may be out there, but I know for sure that god is inside me. That’s where I can feel god’s presence most strongly. It’s when I trust myself—when I trust my inmost ability and desire to reach for love—that I feel most connected to god. This is what Moana connects with as she sings, “It’s like the tide always falling and rising. I will carry you here in my heart, you’ll remind me, that come what may, I know the way!” Then her powerful declaration, I am Moana! I am enough. I trust myself. I see my weakness and I trust my goodness.
She learns to see herself more clearly and this is what gives her the ability to discern that Te Fiti, a goddess with the power to create life, is actually Ta Kā, the lava monster. She recognizes light and shadow in the same space. That’s what love does. It changes us. It clears our vision. It heals. Moana is a conduit for love and healing as she reminds Ta Kā of who she is.
Whew! It’s a powerful message. How many ways can it be said throughout time? Love is always the answer. It’s the stuff that holds the universe together. Love is the place of refuge. And it’s a place that can only exist inside of me.
My love for myself—that’s how I find god inside of me. Maybe that’s where god lives because she put part of herself in me.