Imperfect Paradise

When traveling to Hawaii, it’s hard to imagine that it would be anything other than pure, perfect paradise. When telling people your destination, they ooh and aah and sigh with envy. Basically, you’d have to be a real jerk to have anything other than a good time. Well, maybe I’m just projecting that, but that’s the way it seems.

Yet, when I first traveled to Hawaii back in 2003, I spent two months on the Big Island that were undoubtedly two of the most challenging months of my adult life. And the most wonderful. For those of you who knew me well during that time of my life, you probably remember that it was a time of enormous upheaval, grief, discovery, romance, and utter elation. Yes, it is possible to experience all of those things at the same time.

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The fact of the matter is, I had come to Hawaii because I thought I could escape from pain and unhappiness in tropical paradise. It sounds so silly and naïve now. Of course you can’t escape. You may not even be able to absorb the beauty around you, because, like a sponge, you are already saturated with emotion.

This is life. And life exists whether or not you are on vacation. That being said, it’s hard to let go of wanting things to be perfect. But what choice do we have? We can embrace the beauty along with the anguish, or we can fight against it, and wear ourselves down in the process.

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I guess I’m just saying all of this as a reminder to myself, because there is still some part of me that wants to believe in that perfect paradise. Yet, here I am in Hawaii, experiencing my life the way it is – amazing, difficult, and everything in between.

We are staying on Maui for just over two weeks (with a 3 day side trip to Oahu for work) and we are a week and half into our trip. We’ve been staying with a friend who lives partway between the coast and the top of the island (so get the image of me doing nothing but lounging on the beach out of your head). We’ve taken several day excursions to the beach with crystalline waters that feed the soul. We’ve gone snorkeling and seen a vast array of living wonders in colors that are hard to believe exist in nature. We’ve explored shimmering green tidal pools, and walked through the vast moonscape of Haleakala, where the air is so clear, you feel like your very essence is being cleansed just from breathing it.

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My favorite part of the trip so far has been a side trip to Hana, on the far side of the island, where the lush mountainside bursts with a million emerald bouquets. We stayed in a small cabin of sorts off the grid in the midst of a botanical garden. Along the wandering tourist-laden road to get there, we stopped to splash in playful waterfalls that sliced through the thick, verdant landscape. (We even managed to find some secluded spots away from the pack.)

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The garden itself was a maze of twisting paths, snaking through 10 acres of vibrant tropical heaven. The whole operation is run by an 85-year old woman, who has so clearly imbued her love and care into every square inch.

We wandered the paths, picking fruit and basking in botanical bliss, loading up on passion fruit and avocados. We laughed as I climbed on top of Rob’s shoulders to pick bananas – fat, green crescents raining down to the rich, earthy ground.

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It has been wonderful. Magical. And yet there are times that I ache with longing to be home. My body is wracked with such profound fatigue and achiness that it seems like every cell is rebelling at the very thought of existing. My stomach is wrenched with the pain of a year’s worth of antibiotics. This is just how it is with lyme disease.

Most times, I can keep my chin up, being grateful for what I have and the things that I can still do, and remembering that it could be worse. But then there are times when I feel utterly defeated – when after weeks of feeling almost whole again, I have once again been knocked down, beaten, broken.

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I had so hoped that I would feel rested and rejuvenated on my vacation. But I don’t. I have been feeling pretty awful, to be honest. And sometimes that means I am too wrapped up in feeling bad to enjoy this beautiful island. And that’s okay. It has to be. Life is full of beauty and sorrow, boredom and wonder, pain and joy, and a myriad of other emotions and experiences. Like a little kid, we can kick our feet and wish it wasn’t so, but it is.

So many things can happen in life. You might plan a camping trip only to have it rain the entire time. You might get sick the night before your wedding. You might relish in the excitement of a new discovery. You might be touched by the unexpected kindness of a stranger. Or you might find yourself in an imperfect paradise.

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