Sept. 12, 2009--I'm just back from a week in Hawaii, a vacation with the family, and I'm struggling to answer when people ask, "How was your trip?"
"Beautiful. It's incredibly beautiful there," I've resigned myself to responding, inadequately.
After all, who can dispute it? Maui IS beautiful ... its mythically warm ocean, with bands of aquamarine bleeding along the rich blue-green spectrum as the sunlight shifts angles ... the perfect white clouds dotting an impossibly blue sky like in a storybook, a fairy tale ... the crystalline air, especially welcome after L.A.'s smog, which was particularly bad before we left because of the wildfires ... the refreshing winds that wash over you, cooling you down from the hot sun ... the gentle rains that burst forth daily, but you don't mind, and they never last long ... and the rainbows they leave behind, like the afterglow of a kiss ...
Still, people do seem puzzled by my answer. My internal conflict is apparently obvious.
Truth be told: the trip was exhausting, and we're all glad to be home again.
Not to sound ungrateful. We were very fortunate to be able to get away and have the opportunity to experience God and Nature's resplendence. But were we--am I--grateful ENOUGH? Is my gratitude worthy of Maui's magnificence? Could it possibly ever be up to the task?
Let me explain.
First of all, traveling on an airplane with a wheelchair--two wheelchairs, actually, since I always bring my old manual one in case the airline mangles my motorized chair--is never effortless. Though American Airlines surprised me with an unprecedented level of helpfulness, it's still incumbent on us to transfer me out of the chair and get the chair made ready for cargo, bubble wrap and all. Until the air carriers become truly wheelchair accessible, that is, and let wheelchair-using passengers fly on board in their own chairs.
Also, the assorted paraphernalia to lug. Battery chargers and, for me lately, various respiratory apparatus.
Second, traveling with children isn't the easiest thing either. Though my daughters were very well behaved in the airport, on the planes and, indeed, throughout the ordeal--yes, I said ordeal--they're still kids. They get bored with adult conversation and sightseeing. They fight about who gets which bed. They want to watch TV. They want to go home.
Yet there's another, more surprising and perhaps more terrible downside to our Hawaii vacation.
Within days I began to feel profoundly sad. Not overwhelmingly so, but something deep within me was off-kilter ... ill-at-ease ... disturbed, perhaps. Where were the shimmying grass skirts, endless barrels of mai tais and piña coladas, limitless racks of barbecued pork and bushels of pineapples and mangoes (all of which would have wreaked havoc on my gut), the prolonged and languorous honeymoon-like lovemaking, and so forth? In short, the Tiki-infused overabundent free-flowing joy?
Okay, I play it too cool and cosmopolitan to be swept away by kitschy clichés. And yes, I admittedly sound bratty, kvetchy. I was in the midst of boundless natural beauty! But I was also in a small, somewhat depressed town of mostly working-class people sustained primarily by the tourist trade, doubtless down in this recession. The locals seemed unhappy, somehow. The natives were restless.
Before we arrived, one of the managers of the condo complex where we stayed mentioned that someone there was out on vacation. I joked, “Where does one go on vacation from Maui?” He said those who live and work there can't imagine why anyone comes to visit. "There's nothing here," he complained with a chuckle.
So there I was in this depressed small town much like any other American company town in this day and age, albeit bathed in tropical breezes and sunbeams, and though I tried to be cheerful and soak up the vacation vibe, I turned introspective.
As I tried to sort out my feelings, here's what I wrote (yes, it's like two blogs in one!):
9-4-09: It's the week before Labor Day, and here I am on Maui, in Hawaii, enjoying the beautifully clean air and the impossibly beautiful ocean views and the beautifully light, refreshing, occasional rains--and I'm thinking about Christmas.
Not because I miss winter, either.
What do Christmas and this American Eden have in common? Both are supposed to fill you with a joyous wonderment--are they not? In the days before leaving the flames of L.A. for fantasy island, I'd occasionally let people know that I was going to be out of town, and I'd occasionally let them know where I'd be. I lost count of the people who reacted with, I'm so jealous! Can I go with you? Or words to that effect.
It's supposed to be so, so great here. It's supposed to fill you with a new spirit, make you young and relaxed and at peace. Just like Christmas. Your inner joyous child will come out and push away all the sooty, high-pressure, aggressive, tensed-up adult responsibilities. Right?
Plus, these hopeful, warm and fuzzy feelings should last, should change you! Let the Aloha Spirit stay with you through all your days! Keep Christmas in your heart all year long!
How could Maui or Xmas live up to its billing?
Though intrinsically distinct, yuletide sentiments and the aloha atmosphere amount to the same thing, don't they? And if you don't feel them--if the mood-enhancement isn't delivered as promised--you're disappointed. You feel a failure. And you mourn the loss of the joy that was supposed to be yours, the chi you can't quite find or hold onto.
Hence a deep sadness washes over me. I am here, in Paradise...
Yet life it goes on ... and I almost can't wait until it does, till this digression is over, made golden perhaps in memory.
You're just not feeling it the way you're expected to.
Is something wrong with me?