As I was driving along early one morning I heard myself humming, and as I hummed I sang these syllables: La-la-la.
I thought about other words that have an el and an ah in them.
Halleluia, came to my mind first of all, partly because ‘tis the season, and also because I was humming the chorus. “Hallel” is a Hebrew verb meaning to joyfully praise. Yah stems from YHWH, the Hebrew name for God that cannot be spoken. Also, El or Elijah and Allah are ancient words for “God.”
When I arrived home I found I had received a gift from a friend who lives in Hawai’i. As anyone who has fallen in love with Hawai’i knows, one’s love affair does not end simply because one is 6,000 miles away. My friend understands that, and she also knows that at this time of year, the darkest of all here in northern New England, the magic and beauty of the islands are missed most sorely.
My gratitude toward her naturally turned to one of the loveliest words in the world: Aloha. The word’s etymology is shrouded in mystery. The Samoan word alofa and the Maori aroha have a similar meaning.
What is that meaning? Essentially, the word is “love” – but, as we know from English, love is one of those words that could benefit from being shared by at least a hundred other words for a hundred different kinds of love.
Aloha is no different.
“alo” means presence (also front, face, share)
“oha” means joy or joyous affection
and “ha” means the breath of life.
I started saying that last syllable: “Hah!” I used my hands and arms, as though I were a eurythmist. And I felt the breath of life come through me. Aloha!
Although the word is used as a greeting in Hawaii – as ubiquitous as “hello” on the mainland – there it is as much a way of life as it is a greeting. According to Curby Rule: “Aloha is being a part of all, and all being a part of me. When there is pain – it is my pain. When there is joy – it is also mine. I respect all that is as part of the Creator and part of me. I will not willfully harm anyone or anything. When food is needed I will take only my need and explain why it is being taken. The earth, the sky, the sea are mine to care for, to cherish and to protect. This is Hawaiian – this is Aloha.” (You can learn more about Aloha in his article called The Deeper Meaning of Aloha, and also why the word heloa is also important in Hawaiian culture.)
So, what about our word “hello?” I did some brief research into ways different people greet each other with a hello-sounding word:
Afrikaans – haai
Arabic – salam (peace)
Azerbaijani – salam
Cape-Verdean Creole – oi, olá
Catalan – hola
Chinese (Cantonese) – nei ho or lei ho
Danish – hej (pronounced hey)
Dutch – hoi, hallo
Fijian – bula uro
German – hallo
Hawaiian – aloha
Hebrew – shalom (peace)
Spain – olá
Doesn’t the word “hello” feel rather like a “halleluia” or “aloha”, if it was spoken with a “I’m glad-to-be-alive-and-to-know-you” kind of intention?
What would it be like if every time we answered the phone or greeted someone in the street and said, “Hello!” we imagined the joyous breath of life that is so deeply woven into words like “halleluia” and “aloha”?