I’m uncharacteristically at a loss for words to describe our week in Maui. I’ve been chatting with Storm about it and the best we can come up with is to say that on one hand, Maui is exactly as it’s depicted in travel magazines and movies and websites- the water is impossibly blue and clear, the marine life is ubiquitous and friendly, the people are bright and warm, the weather is idyllic. Pretty sure they get those photos for the websites by literally turning on their phones and snapping a picture of just wherever they happen to be. Click.
On the other hand, for me at least, I felt an unexpected energy, a bio-electrical buzz, a vibe, a pulse resonating through the land, from the mountains through the ocean back onto land, across straits between islands, up the improbably ascetic palm tree trunks and out the leaves like an invisible fountain of mojo; a crackle of pure Timothy Leary-level psychic voltage that did not stun as much as subdue. It pulls your own body’s electrical field pattern into its own in a kind of frequency entrainment that reduces every element around it to a chillest common rhythm, like a slow and casual but steady drumbeat. It is pleasantly mesmerizing.
Not enough can be said about the program that made this trip possible for us, Make-A-Wish. They went so far above and beyond to make this a special experience for Storm and our family. They upgraded our room to an oceanfront suite on the ground floor so every morning we could wake up and wander right out the sliding glass doors from our kitchen right onto the beach. They arranged for three excursions and provided a stipend that allowed us to not have to think about a budget for food or other small necessities. They brought us to the airport at 3 am in a limo and the same limo picked us up one week later.
The trip to Maui and the return each took nearly 24 hours of nonstop traveling. We arrived at our hotel looking and feeling like zombies who thirst for soft beds instead of brains. But the next morning, we had gotten up, said hello to the ocean, watched whales frolicking right offshore for a while, had breakfast, rented snorkel gear and were hovering over a reef off Ka’anapali Beach all before 9 am.
Highlights, in Maui-inspired non-chronological order, include:
- Snorkeling in the midst of marine wildlife. Countless colorful coral fish, eels, green sea turtles swam right past us without blinking an eye. Storm had a 6-foot long reef shark swim right under him. He actually tried to follow it, but it was moving too fast…
- Private expedition with the research team from Pacific Whale Foundation aboard the Ocean Protector. Close encounters (very very close!) with eight separate pods and over 20 whales. We watched a rare interspecies interaction where a group of dolphins played with a calf. We learned about ocean conservancy science and the protection of marine wildlife. We were surrounded with amazing people, amazing work, and incredible animals that day.
- Surfing off the coast of Kihei on the south shore. The waters were filled with green sea turtles who seemed happy to frolic in the waves with us.
- Hiking the Waihi Ridge Trail- about equivalent to Camel’s Hump, but with crazy views of the inland mountains.
- My personal favorite: there are so many whales out there this time of year that you can walk into the water at any point, duck your head under, and hear, loud and clear, the whales singing and whistling to each other.
- Cliff Jumping off Black Rock at sunset and at the Twin Waterfalls near Ho’okipa.
- Visiting the huge group of sea turtles lounging on the beach along with some playful monk seals at the dramatic surfing mecca Ho’okipa.
Re-entry has been ungraceful, at least for me. I still haven’t quite gotten back on east coast time, but it was worth it to see the smile on Storm’s face: when he caught a wave or jumped a cliff or, maybe best of all really, had time to just chill on the beach with a book (mine, of all things!). There was nowhere to go, nothing to do, whales breaching in the distance, the Hawaiian breeze running its fingers lazily through his long, unruly hair, time an illusion, and cancer a distant thought.
Some time a long time ago, lifetimes ago, I wrote in this journal about an image I held of a moment I imagined experiencing some day. A carefree moment on a quiet beach, a chance to actually let go, relax, begin to untangle the web of anxiety and the burden of our journey that has weighed us down for such a long time. And the honest truth is that this was not that beach, not that moment, because we are still in treatment. We punctuated every single day in Hawaii with oral chemotherapy, on a strange time-zone adjusted schedule, meticulously and faithfully. We fretted about germs (especially with all the passengers wearing surgical masks). He is still in treatment, and he will subject himself to spinal chemo in just a few weeks. We are still in the battle and must remain vigilant and exacting. So, this was not that beach.
But dang, it was close.
Matt Rushford is a Wish dad and husband who lives in Williston, Vermont with his wife, Julieta and son, Storm. He is a pediatric and perinatal chiropractor and director of the StormStrong Foundation for pediatric cancer research in honor of his son, Storm. He's the author of two books: Born Broken: De-Pathologizing the Human Condition, and upcoming StormStrong: Notes on Courage, Humor and Hope from a Cancer Dad.