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Hawaii News | Incidental Lives

At water’s edge, successes and failures wash in and out

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Lavina Aina was born and raised in Waimanalo. It’s all she knows and all she’s ever cared to know.

She figures she’ll die in Waimanalo, too. It just couldn’t be that night, not that way.

"I wanted to take my life," she said, gesturing toward the ocean. "I just couldn’t take it anymore."

She had three children from three different fathers, none of whom had stuck around long enough to help with the rearing. Unemployed, she sold drugs to keep her kids fed and clothed. Took some, too, to escape however briefly the mess that her life had become.

The latest drama involved "another guy," and it might not have been such a big thing if not for that metastasizing sense of failure and disappointment that had set in her weary blood.

And so, standing there on the beach, she did what the desperate do when they’ve hit bottom.

"I got down, flat on my face, and said ‘I need you, Lord,’" she said. "And I got my answer. He told me it was OK and that all I had to do was give myself to him."

Aina is a formidable presence. Stout as a tank, with deeply set eyes that can cow a pit bull or warm a heart depending on her mood, she strides regally around the Waimanalo Beach Park campground that has been her home for the last three years.

Her encounter with God on the beach five years ago may have saved her life, but it wasn’t the sort of "all better now" grace that makes for tidy testimony on Sunday. Aina started attending church, even did some outreach service, but that ended with a backslide into crystal meth. Still, as a woman used to failure, a child of a community that struggles every day not to accept it, she knew she could start again.

Aina says she’s been clean for several years. Still unemployed, she spends as much time as possible at Kupuna Church and IAM Ministries. She spends the rest of her time as self- appointed sheriff of the park’s homeless community, welcoming the dozens of new arrivals who have filled the campgrounds over the last year and making sure everyone observes the tacit good-neighbor policy that assures harmony with the surrounding community.

She does have a house to go to if she chooses — a pair of siblings live just up the road — but there’s too much of the life she’s trying to leave behind there, she says. Her children, now grown and scattered, have also offered to take her in, but she’s happy enough, for the time being, right where she is.

"People who come from here know: Waimanalo get plenty aloha," she says. "Big aloha."

It’s not a perfect life, not the sort she might have long ago imagined, but it’s the one she’s chosen for herself. With her food for the day splayed on a green picnic bench, the rest of her worldly possessions nestled under blue tarpaulin, and that expanse of churning, blue indifference still just steps away, she feels at home.

Reach Michael Tsai at


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