This one was hard to write because I’ve had several different experiences in Hawaii.
My first time was on Kauai and Big Island with my family when I was young. Later in life, I’d go back to Kauai with my dad and brothers and backpack the Napali Coastline. Now, my best friend from college lives in Oahu and she gives me a good excuse to go every year.
I’ve been in the spring time when there’s lots of rain. I’ve been in the middle of summer during peak tourist season. I’ve been in early fall when the heat is intense and the days are still long. Each trip has held something wild and different.
What do I love about Hawaii?
You’d think it’d be the obvious stuff - the beautiful sunsets or snorkeling with sea turtles or the acai bowls. Maybe it’s the warm tropical water or the epic hikes or fresh papaya?
Oh my gosh THE. PAPAYAS.
But no, I think it’s really just the spirit of the place.
I go and feel like my best self there. And I don’t mean sun-kissed skin, beachy hair, and an endless supply of mai tais. I mean I feel like the truest form of myself. Like Free Willy finally making it back to the wild? I just mean I finally feel like I'm in my natural habitat.
Sunset on the West Side, Oahu.
Missing my roots
Maybe it’s because I grew up by the ocean. For most of my life I lived just a few blocks away from the Pacific and every summer was spent on the beach. I learned to surf and play sand volleyball and rode my bike to and from. Thinking back on it all makes me pause. A tightness in the chest. There’s always a longing there.
Hawaii is the same feeling but a different flavor.
For one, it reminds me of all that I’m missing away from the beach.
I don’t mean being in a constant state of vacation. I mean what daily life looked like, smelled like, felt like by the beach. Just ordinary life, but close to tidal waters.
For two, my best friend lives there and after years of living life together we are now worlds apart. The ache of that separation is exactly the weight and length and breadth of an entire ocean.
For three, it’s the people and the culture that create the island spirit. It is hugs instead of hand shakes. It’s being invited to go out boating even though you just met five minutes ago. It’s swimsuits by default. It’s fresh fish. It’s being called sis at the coffee shop.
It is precisely why you feel so relaxed when you’re there.
Sunset on the West Side / Sunrise at Turtle Bay
The island represents almost everything I love and associate with my life growing up in just one small floating piece of land. Lots of exposure to nature. Long days under the sun. Warmth on the skin. Blue over head. Freedom to explore, to play. A trip to the beach that doesn’t require advance planning or hours of driving in traffic. You just go and jump in the water at the end of your day. It’s a ritual.
It's bittersweet that it takes months of saving up and a 6-hour flight to (once a year) enjoy what used to be ingrained in my daily life.
But the preciousness of that time makes it all the sweeter, and makes me more aware of how much I took for granted as a kid on the beaches of L.A.
At first, visiting Hawaii in adulthood meant that I felt the “bitter.” Wild adventures camping in the mountains, hiking across craters, and beach hopping around the island made me feel that I was seriously missing out by living on the mainland.
Warm breezes and positive ions in salty water would bathe me in the illusion of a fuller, more beautiful life. The distance between this place and my “real life” held me like an invisible lead; the thought of not having enough time, that I would have to leave soon, always gripped me. More than anything, it felt like evidence that I was not living the life I felt I was designed for.
I know now that these are the thoughts of an ungrateful heart. These are the thoughts of a mind yet to be awaked to the blessings around her.
Hiking Kuliouou Ridge.
What took me a little while to realize, but what eventually became the “sweet” of this story, was that the life I felt like I was designed for had less to do with an island and more to do with an identity.
These last few years, I have been on a journey of discovering what a joy-filled life, a life lived to the fullest, looks like for me, regardless of circumstances.
Was Hawaii the life I had been missing out on? Or had I already been missing out on life simply because I was refusing to LIVE IT?
Does the sun not set every night, wherever I am in the world?
Can I not find pineapples in any grocery store I walk into?
Is there not a blue sky over my head regardless of where I stand?
If only I were to
Sunrise outside Turtle Bay.
The thing is, I got tired of waiting to be my "best self" until that one time of year when I made the trip out.
Once I realized that it wasn’t the setting of the island, but the spirit of the island that brought all of this out of me, I began to see that I could take that spirit with me anywhere. I was finally able to name what it was that was so important to me, instead of where was important to me, and I was able to bring those things back into my daily life again.
At a friend's farm / Beach on the West Side
Mermaid at heart
Today, I lay out on the grass when I need to soak up some sunshine.
I have hose fights with my neighbor’s kids when I want to be in water. I'm seriously considering buying a kiddie pool for the summertime. I pay a little extra and treat myself to Hawaiian papayas when I find them in season at the store. I sit on my front porch and watch the colors of the sunset, granted its over houses and not the horizon. At night we sleep with our windows open to feel the breeze. I traded work clothes for denim shorts, and sometimes I’ll opt for a bikini top instead of a bra just because it holds the promise of sunshine.
I still try to make it out to Hawaii at least once a year. They are precious, perfect trips. Of course I cherish the time spent with my best friend too. And while it still always feels like “going home” in a way, it’s not as painfully poignant anymore.
I brought aloha to me.
And even though I don’t get to put my feet in the sand and no one here says mahalo, I still feel like a mermaid at heart.