comscore The first question might be the worst | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Hawaii News | Lee Cataluna

The first question might be the worst

Why live on an active volcano?

So many news outlets have posed this question. Some people have been popping off on social media, in the terrible way some people do, victim-blaming and head-­shaking after a terrible thing happens to somebody else. The question is not always laden with arrogance and malice, though. Some people just are genuinely confused or curious. Why live in a place where lava might come and take your home?

It’s a fruitless game to play at this point. The salient question is, What kind of help do they need to rebuild their lives?

The game is also endless. There is no winner, no perfect place on which to stake your claim and build your home.

Why live along a river? Aren’t you afraid of floods?

Why live in a beachfront home? Aren’t you afraid of tsunamis?

Why live along the ridge of a mountain? Aren’t you afraid of landslides?

Why live at the bottom of a mountain? Aren’t you afraid of rockfalls?

Why live in a high-rise? Aren’t you afraid of fires?

Why live in a walk-up? Don’t you worry about bad people coming right to your door?

Why live in Hawaii at all? Aren’t you afraid of … fill in the blank. Hurricanes, sharks, barge strikes, North Korean missiles.

People in Hawaii have their questions, too.

Why live where it’s cold? Isn’t it … cold?

Why live in cities where the crime rate is high?

Why live where the only thing you have to keep yourself occupied is to write ignorant comments online about people you’ve never met and don’t understand?

When unforeseen circumstances fall into other people’s lives, human nature being what it is, people want to convince themselves that the specific misfortune wouldn’t happen to them. Oh, they’d never live in a place like that. They’d never take those kind of risks. They’d never put themselves in harm’s way. These are attempts to maintain a sense of security and the false idea that the world is safe if only you play by the rules.

It also bears pointing out that this was not predictable or inevitable. No one anticipated that lava from Puu Oo would travel underground and push up to the surface miles away. People did not knowingly put themselves in harm’s way.

The “why” question is often answered with the statement that people live in places like Leilani Estates because that’s where they can afford real estate in Hawaii. But it’s not that they have no choice, but because they make the choice, and they chose to live in a place that is quiet but never silent because of the pulse of the land; a place where the “living earth” is not just a concept, but a constant presence; where they can have a yard and chickens and rain-watered orchids and cats sleeping on the porch; where they can park a truck on the grass and hang clothes on the line; where nobody bothers them and they can see all the stars at night. Everywhere there are risks. This is a place of immense richness.

Reach Lee Cataluna at 529-4315 or

Comments (11)

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Terms of Service. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. Report comments if you believe they do not follow our guidelines.

Having trouble with comments? Learn more here.

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

Be the first to know
Get web push notifications from Star-Advertiser when the next breaking story happens — it's FREE! You just need a supported web browser.
Subscribe for this feature

Scroll Up