Ka Wai Ola

We often learn our greatest lessons from our greatest trials. As we grapple with the uncertainty and challenges raised by the coronavirus pandemic, we are displaying our mettle and moral fiber. We are gaining appreciation for things we might have taken for granted or not paid much attention to before. We are realizing what we truly need to live a rich, meaningful life. Here are four unique perspectives.

Clifford Naeʻole, cultural advisor, The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua

Photo: Clifford Naeole
Clifford Naeʻole – Photo:: The Ritz-Carlton

Discovering the value of “time” is, for me, the silver lining during this crisis. That came to me recently during dinner; I was hungry and started to eat as fast as I could. Suddenly I saw myself as a child, with my late grandfather sitting at the table with me. He said, “Chew your food; take your time.” I remembered his wisdom: food always tastes better when I take the time to savor every morsel rather than scarf it down.

We now have more free time than we’ve ever had, and that is giving us more choices. We can set new priorities, accomplish things long left undone and strive to reach goals that we only dreamed of before.

I see couples walking their dogs together, neighbors conversing, people planting gardens and families playing in their yards. At night I take out my star chart and marvel at how vast and complex the universe is—and yet the Polynesians, using information gleaned from investing time in patient observation, were able to navigate the seas by what they saw in the sky.

Yes, the pandemic is dangerous, scary and frustrating. Yes, it has caused many—too many—to grieve. But it is giving us time to contemplate, sharpen our senses, revitalize our spirit, cherish our family and friends, and shape what will be the new norm for a safe and healthy life.

Soo Whan Pumehana Cullen, funeral director, Nuʻuanu Memorial Park & Mortuary

Photo: Soo Whan
Soo Whan Pumehana Cullen – Photo: Kimo Cullen

What strengthens me in tough times is knowing that God is in control of all things. We’re so busy in our daily lives, we forget the art of being still, listening for God’s voice and searching for the blessings around us.

Two scriptures that I love are 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind,” and Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” God’s word always brings me peace and hope no matter the trial.

Before COVID-19, I joined a bible study at church, which taught us to choose a few times a day to be still, clear our minds, read short devotions and scripture, and pray. Quarantine provided the quiet time to study, reflect on my life and pray. Zoom became a means for church members to connect in small groups despite being separated. We could talk story, see how everyone was doing, encourage and pray for one another.

We all will experience difficulties in our lives, but we can choose how we move through them. We can’t allow fear and sorrow to steal our joy. The most important lesson I’ve learned in this life is to depend on one person who has never left me: Jesus, my friend, my teacher, my Savior and my King.

Kahu Kenneth Makuakāne, Kawaiahaʻo Church

Photo: Kahu Kenneth
Kahu Kenneth Makuakāne – Photo:: Jim Uyeda

My preferred morning beverage is a freshly brewed cup of coffee with some half-and-half. I like to drink it slowly, sometimes over the course of an hour, as I sit under the milo tree I planted in my backyard on Arbor Day 15 years ago. It was only a twig with some leaves back then, and over the years I must have trimmed it at least a hundred times, trying to bend it in its youth so its branches would grow a certain way like those of a bonsai. But it grew exactly the way it wanted to.

I watched my son grow up, playing in that tree. I spent many happy days with family and friends eating, laughing and talking story in its shade. I have written countless songs, poems, short stories and random thoughts while resting beside or beneath it. My sturdy milo tree has become a beloved and trusted confidant.

If you look closely, you’ll see it has five main branches that come out of its short trunk like fingers from the palm of a hand. Two of them look like crossed fingers; I like to think it’s because the tree promised it would always be there for me—in good times, in bad times, in pandemic times.

That brings me comfort as I sip my morning coffee in its loving embrace.

Luana Busby Neff, Native Hawaiian activist and cultural practitioner

Photo: Luana Busby Neff
Luana Busby Neff – Photo: Manulani Aluli Meyer

I recently had an epiphany: Earth has needed a break for a long time and the pandemic, horrific as it is, is providing an opportunity for that. With communities around the world in lockdown and industries not operating at full capacity, the exploitation and desecration of our natural resources have slowed for now. No longer are toxins being poured into our air, land, water and bodies. In many countries, the skies are bluer, the land is greener, and the air and streams are cleaner than they’ve been in decades.

Earth is renewing itself—and so are we.

Pule ʻāina, in the book Hawaiian Antiquities by David Malo, is a call for healing. Translated in part, it says, “This is a prayer to end the mistakes done to all the land…So that the blight may be over and the mold; So that the decay may be over and the rot…Then will buds shoot from the soil.”

Those “buds” could be seen as a metaphor for humanity. Although many have died from COVID-19, many others, like Earth, are being rejuvenated. This time of adversity is bringing out the best in us. I’ve seen so many acts of grace, kindness and compassion—people going out of their way to help and uplift each other in big ways and small.

Ola honua: Earth lives, aloha lives.


Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi has enjoyed a 43-year career in journalism in Hawaiʻi. She has written 12 books about our Islands’ history, culture, food and lifestyle.