The Aloha Mentality: A smile from a stranger goes a long way

From what I have seen of Hawaii so far, it is top of the list of one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. At every turn there is breathtaking scenery, shades of green I didn’t know existed, landscapes that only Bob Ross could do justice in painting before me. I want to hug Mother Earth for all her glory. However, a place is a reflection of its people, and the beauty of locals here is also on top of the list. I am not talking about physical beauty, though they are that too (sun-tanned, surfer bodies, and many reasons to have their shirts off)! I am talking about the beauty of the Aloha spirit here.

Growing up, I was under the impression that Aloha was the Hawaiian word for hello and goodbye. And it is that, and then so much more. From what I have gathered, it is a mentality, a spirit in which the community bases themselves in love and compassion for each other and nature. It is a word of respect and mutual understanding. This word and the culture here of it has been evident since I first arrived.

Neighbors first came to greet me with a mango in hand. Another woman took the time to bring maps over and highlight the best hikes, of course with her own hand-picked fruit for me. A third woman stopped over to welcome me and left with an open invitation to come swim with her.

In the mornings, I have been making a habit of running along the road near the ocean and as I pass people, even from across the road, they look up in my direction and wish me a ‘Good Morning.” With Snoopp in tow for a walk, people greet us with small waves, head nods as they putz around their yards.

On the trails as well, the few people I have seen are always friendly. Yesterday, on the Kuilau Trail in Kapa’a, I came upon a woman who was a wealth of knowledge. With exuberant personality and big hair, I liked her from the moment I saw her, just having pulled up her pants from using nature as her bathroom! She clued me into the way of the path, the avocado tree to look out for along the way, and gave me the elevator pitch of her life on Kauai for the last twenty five years.

This warmth, neighborliness, acknowledgement of each other makes me smile. I think it is all too easy for me to feel the heaviness of our world at times. When I turn on the news, it often depicts a world of otherness and violence, of injustice and pain, of fear. I don’t intend to discredit the weight and importance of that, instead, I simply note the lightness there is in knowing the faces of my neighbors. Of looking people in the eye and wishing them a good day. Of having a reason to smile because the man in the gray shirt I see everyday is smiling back.

As I live in different corners of the world, even for brief stints, I keep my eyes open to how I hope to be a longer term neighbor to people someday; an identity I can only hope to nurture with time. For now though, I will continue taking my walks, smiling at strangers, and looking up as people pass me by because smiles from strangers make me happy.

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