Miracle on Maui

A breathtaking journey to a mysterious spot in Hawaii turns out to be just the surprise she needed.

- Posted on Jul 19, 2017

A black lab on a beach landscape.

Daylight was just spreading across the horizon. My best friend, Jennifer, and I stood on the beach, gazing out at the ocean. It was our last day on Maui—we had a plane to catch in a few hours. But I was glad we’d gotten up early for one last breathtaking view, a visit to a mysterious spot I’d heard about from our hotel’s cultural advisor, Clifford, the night before. A place called Makalua-puna Point.

“I don’t want to leave,” Jennifer said. I didn’t either. Hawaii felt like heaven. Even more than I’d imagined it would when Maui’s tourism board invited me to visit and write about my experiences. It was the best assignment a freelance travel writer could ask for, a business trip that didn’t feel like business.

Jennifer was here for a different reason. She’d just lost her other best friend—Bandit, her black Labrador retriever. I still remembered the day she got him as a puppy, back when the two of us were in high school. A little bundle of fur with oversized paws. We three grew up together.

I couldn’t visit Jennifer without expecting her big black dog to come bounding up to me, wagging his tail for all he was worth. I knew how heartbroken she was to lose him. “I wasn’t even with him when he died,” Jennifer had told me over the phone. “I was at work when it happened. I didn’t get to say goodbye.”

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I’d read that Maui was known for its healing properties. Jennifer needed that, so I’d invited her along. We’d spent the last week exploring all the island had to offer. We hiked to the top of Haleakala¯ Crater, a red-orange dustbowl formed from the collapsing peak of a volcano. We spent an afternoon stand-up paddleboarding at Olowalu Beach. We rappelled down a 50-foot waterfall in the rain forest off the Hana Highway and then got massages at the Grand Wailea Hotel’s Spa Grande.

The trip wasn’t all adventure. Jennifer and I prayed together in the meditation garden at a Lumeria Maui retreat. We met on the beach late at night to see the ocean glimmer in the moonlight and the waves roll up on shore. One day we trekked deep into the Hawaiian wilderness at Iao Valley State Park.

Exotic plants carpeted the ground and ancient rocks towered overhead. The bright-green Iao Needle soared 1,200 feet into the cobalt sky. The foot trails and hidden streams were so beautiful we just had to stop and take it all in.

“This really is paradise,” Jennifer said. “It feels like we’re the only people in the world,” I agreed.

It was the kind of place that compels you to give thanks to God— or sing. “Oh Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder…” My voice echoed off the rocks. “Then sings my soul, my savior God, to thee, how great thou art!”

We thought we had seen everything there was to see. Our predawn walk to Makalua-puna hadn’t been on the schedule. We expected to spend the morning packing our bags before we headed to the airport. But the night before, over sushi and sashimi, Clifford had told a captivating story.

“The hotel was originally planned to sit right on the beach,” he said. “But the Hawaiians protested that this spot was sacred. We believe it to be a vortex, a place where souls go before birth and after death. The ocean is like a womb.”

I wanted to know more. Clifford described a ritual Hawaiians performed in the early morning. “It’s a ceremony where you cast your burdens into the ocean,” he said. “All the things that are weighing you down, keeping you from moving forward. You drown those in the water and come out like new.”

That’s exactly what Jennifer needs, I thought, though I didn’t say it. We’d been so busy, she hadn’t had time to dwell on Bandit’s loss. But I could tell she was struggling with the thought that he was gone. Even though we had a long plane ride the next day, we agreed to meet Clifford in the lobby of the hotel at 5:00 a.m.

In the morning we took a golf cart down to the beach. “It’s time,” said Clifford.

Jennifer and I waded into the ocean. We dipped ourselves in the calm waves, letting them wash away any negative emotions we’d brought with us. Then we walked back onto the beach and Clifford led us in a chant. “E ala e ka la¯ i ka hikina…” Words, he’d explained, about the rising sun. The sun brings life to the earth and lets us do all the things God meant for us to do.

The sun broke over the horizon, sparkling on the water. We dried ourselves off in a nearby gazebo. “I really do feel lighter,” I said. “There is one more thing,” Clifford said. “Keep a lookout for a messenger. A butterfly, a bird, a ladybug—any creature that lingers with you a little longer than you’d expect. That’s a sign that your prayers have been heard.”

This being Hawaii, wildlife was everywhere—colorful birds flitting among the coconut palms, crabs digging in the sand on the beach, butterflies fluttering among the flowers, geckos sunning themselves on rocks. Who could say if any of them had a special interest in us?

“What’s that?” I said. There was a rustling in the woods just beyond the gazebo. I saw something dark, something big. I grabbed Jennifer’s arm. The bushes parted. Out from the darkness bounded a big, black…Labrador?

He loped right up to Jennifer and stood outside the gazebo, wagging his tail. We both held our breath, too surprised to speak. The dog seemed to contemplate us. He gazed steadily at Jennifer for a moment, then turned and disappeared into the woods.

“Did you see that?” I said. "It's Bandit!" She cried. We screamed and laughed, cried and hugged together. 

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