Mt. Haleakala sunrise

Mt. Haleakala sunrise

It was a scene out of a high-intensity thriller. We were stowaways in the back of a large SUV headed for the summit of Hawaii’s Mt. Haleakala. The national park, known for its unparalleled view of the sunrise 10,000 feet above sea level, had just denied our vehicle entry.

My husband, Benjamin, and I had driven up to the top nearly two decades ago, but didn’t realize mandatory reservations had been enacted in 2017.

It was our daughter Ashley’s 14th birthday, but even that wouldn’t change the mind of the National Park Service’s resident gatekeeper. Ben encouraged me to hop out of our car and ask random people whether the kids and I could catch a ride with them to see what would be an unforgettable birthday sunrise.

The people in the first car were willing but had no space, and the second car didn’t have reservations. I was content for our family to stay together and catch what we could of the sunset elsewhere in Honolulu, but my other half insisted. We were too close, got up too early and had driven too far to accept defeat.

“Just one more car,” he said.

The next family I approached in the predawn darkness of night not only let us in their car, they also wouldn’t accept the money we offered to pay their park fee.

Gordon, Christine, their son and Gordon’s mom had rented a sedan for their Hawaiian vacation, but due to heavy demand, their selection wasn’t available. They were upgraded to a large SUV and this mishap allowed for them to provide a true blessing for me, my daughter and son.

Once we pulled up to the kiosk, the ranger confirmed the name on the reservation and motioned us through. We were in.

At the peak of Mt. Haleakala, our new friends even offered us windbreakers to fight the unrelenting wind.

Then, I heard a gasp among the early risers as the warm glow of the sun started filling the horizon. As the sun came up on the morning of our daughter’s birthday, I could feel the Lord’s love and care in the rays of light that pierced their way through the sky.

I was filled with gratitude for the sweet family that allowed us to intrude on their vacation. I was thankful for my husband who sacrificed his chance to see the sublime to ensure our rental car wouldn’t be towed.

I stood among a large crowd of people sharing the collective experience of a miracle, a sunrise that occurs above the clouds, that fills the beholder with wonder and delight. What I witnessed that day was humanity at its best: people willing to help out even when there was nothing to be gained.

I hope we can all do our best to help others in need, even those we don’t know. As the sunrise settled into the morning, I hugged my kids tight, took in the moment and thanked God for the kindness of strangers. 

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Nina Ha.

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