Thursday, June 13, 2024

Learning to Let Go: My 2024 Hawaiian Holiday

The term "Hawaii" is a synonym for Paradise. For me, the word has always meant sundrenched beaches, magnificent waves, majestic cliffs, and the fact that salt water (not blood) courses through my veins. Hawaii is a place where all cultures meet and mix. Its ethnicity is as diverse as its cuisine. Some call Hawaii a mosaic. Others call it a melting pot. For 19 years, I simply called it home.

During my visit, I spent much of my time at the beach where I grew up. Kailua Beach is a 2-mile crescent of white sand lined with palm trees. My first day back I spent 6 hours at this beach, 3 of them in the water. As the waves curled over me, all my senses conspired to conjure up memories of me rompong in the waves as a boy. I looked down at my hands, the blue veins now knotted under papery thin skin, quite unlike the youthful fascia that once glistened like polished teal. Behind me, in the distance, the sheer majesty of the mighty Koolua Mountains evoked the same sense of awe I felt when I was young. 

A dream come true, this land called Paradise.

The other beach I spent most of my time at was Waikiki, where the royal sport of surfing was invented.  As a teenager, I surfed Waikiki by day and bussed tables after sunset to the light of tiki torches. Tourists, locals, and newcomers of all races party together at this legendary beach. Becky and I used to say that Waikiki at sunset was the most beautiful spot on earth. Of course, not every memory of Waikiki is a pleasant one. It was here that my cousin Pila (Bill) died while surfing. Surfing, I suddenly realized, had its dangers. But as kids, most of the time we were completely oblivious to them. Life was an endless highway. 

I've met a few people who hated living on Oahu. But not many. They were scared of moving to a tiny dot in the middle of the Pacific, to an island you couldn't drive away from. But if you enjoy the ocean, you will love Oahu. Life in Hawaii is lived outdoors. I was blessed to be taught to love the sea from a very early age. My favorite part about being a kamaaina (born in Hawaii) is and always will be the way I've learned to appreciate the beauty of God's creation. The culture of Hawaii, even its food, keeps drawing me back. I have spent my life traveling the world and have been blessed to sample the cuisine of countless countries, but a plate lunch of teri chicken with two scoop rice and one scoop mac salad -- have I died and gone to heaven?

Let me remind you. Nothing in our lives happens by accident. I was meant to be born and raised on Oahu. I was meant to be shaped by godly islanders whose influence I still remember today with a great sense of gratitude. It was there that I was saved and baptized and nurtured as a young boy. It was there I learned to love life despite all its hardships. "Isles of the Blest," wrote Mark Twain after visiting Hawaii, "that is to say, the Sandwich Islands -- to this day the peacefullest, restfullest, sunniest, balmiest, dreamiest haven of refuge for a worn and weary soul the surface of the earth can offer -- a bloomy, fragrant paradise, where the troubled may go and find peace, and the sick and tired find strength and rest. There they are, the divine Islands, forever smiling, shining in the sun, forever out on the sparkling sea, forever inviting you."

Have you noticed? Nostalgia has an immense power over us. Studies show that roughly one-third of all American adults over 30 have revisited their childhood home. They are not necessarily interested in seeing people from the past. They visit the places that once comprised the landscape of their childhood and youth. The choice to do so makes sense when you realize that home is a part of your personal identity. Hawaii was the place where my values were established and where I learned important lessons about life. It isn't about a physical place. It's about knowing that wherever we live on this earth we will always be temporary. It's about reaffirming who you are in the present and where you belong. When you leave a place with memories so deep that even its smells can trigger an emotional response, you find it easy to affirm the words of Billy Graham, "My home is in heaven. I'm just passing through this world." Just as we have to let go of things that aren't serving us so that we can make room for things that are better aligned with God's plan for our lives, so we must learn to let go of what has served us. Going home is a reminder that I should live every day like I'm going to lose what I have, because I am. But the fact that everything in life is temporary makes it all that much more worthy of celebration.

Hawaii is where I retreated to a month after Becky's death. It took me completely out of myself. For those few days, my grief was not insurmountable. The incomparable beauty of the islands was for me the beginning of healing. Even now, when I'm awake at night, I remember the world of Hawaii -- and am at peace. Those who have lived there know this feeling well.

Once Hawaii takes your heart you never fully get it back -- unless, of course, you're in Hawaii. And I try to be, as often as I can.