02/24/2014 02:26 pm ET Updated Apr 26, 2014

Fleeting Loves, Enduring Loves

Maui bid a hui hou, until we gather again, to one Harlan Masuda under a gentle mantel of vog and low clouds today. Harlan's passing was sudden, with no foreshadowing, no omens, no warning that this vital waterman would be leaving his wife and children long before his time.


Harlan was, by all accounts, the kind of guy you really wanted as a friend: funny, caring, and trustworthy. I did not know him particularly, but his wife is a colleague at the college. Knowing her, hearing the words of praise from his friends, and just feeling the aloha at his memorial, I feel the loss more deeply than I expected.

A very few times, amidst gathered community, I have felt , tangibly, this thing Hawaiian culture calls aloha. It is as physical as goose-bumps, or "chicken-skin" in Hawai'i vernacular, like the hair standing up on your neck, but for decidedly un-creepy reasons. I have come to believe that this visceral aloha sensation is the sum of the love, connection, and esteem of a group united by their common regard for a beloved member of the community. I felt it today as surely as one feels the waves passing by while swimming in the ocean.

Harlan's ashes were carried out to sea on an outrigger canoe, accompanied by his wife and children, a kahuna, and well-wishers on a host of boards and watercraft, as many more watched from the shore. This is the new ceremony of passage in Hawai'i, amalgamated from customs of the many cultures of the islands, with a healthy dose of surfer reverence for life on the sea.


Harlan will probably not appear in the annals of history books, but he will certainly live in the collective memory of the Maui community. Today told a story of the strong fabric knitting together those who float together on this island raft in the midst of the vast Pacific, the most isolated land on the planet. The traditional Hawaiian cloth fabric was kapa, made by carefully beating the crap out of tree bark until it is pliable and soft. We on Maui face unique travails from minor to devastating, from higher gas prices to brutal storms, and as we survive them together, we are battered into greater cohesion in this web of aloha, the sacred shared breath that flows through us all. The passing of Harlan from this world to realms of spirit leaves a void that cannot be filled and it binds us closer all at once.


The indescribable beauty of our fleeting existence amongst the living nestles restlessly in a bed of paradox: we are a candle's flicker and an irreplaceable gem, doomed to leave too soon and irrevocably connected to eternal existence, a wisp of smoke made of ancient stardust. Fortunately, we do have each other. On the beach, children played and dogs sniffed around, as we waited for those who would return from the sea. Today was a testament to the power of ohana, extended family, because there was no question about the love, the aloha, that united those gathered today. Harlan's is a Maui story, but the power of the love and interconnection shared today is one for everyone everywhere.