Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Moloka'i - Three Weeks and Counting

Sometimes a bumper sticker says it all. Thanks to TripAdvisor's CaribbeanJimmy for the generous use of the photo.

People keep asking me if I’m getting excited about Molokai. It’s a natural question, but still I don’t know quite how to answer. Three months in paradise… what’s not to be off-the-chart, doing-cartwheels-over excited about?

Except that most of the time it feels like the guillotine awaiting. Okay, maybe guillotine is overstating, but on some level, that’s not far off. In so many ways, I’m walking straight into the unknown, and have the overly-active-butterflies-in-the-stomach to prove it. Not that that’s a bad thing, right?

The closest I’ve been to Molokai was staring at its silhouette from across the water on Maui, and reading about it in Alan Brennert’s sad, yet moving and inspirational tale of life in its infamous leper colony. His book one of my great draws to the island, by the way. And I’ve done my homework. I know the island is 38 miles long and 10 wide. I know that there are 7,000 people living on it, including the highest percentage of native Hawaiians of all the islands save the tiny, private island of Ni╩╗ihau. I know there isn’t a building taller than a palm tree, and not enough traffic to warrant even one signal light. I know that it’s nicknamed The Friendly Island, and that I keep reading and hearing the words peaceful, beautiful, tranquil, relaxing, retreat… So far, so good, right?

I know I will be living for those three months in a condo on the arid (read: dry) west side. I know that I will have a “garden” view, but will be able to hear the surf, sometimes so loudly at night I’ll be tempted to get up and close the door. (The ocean too loud??? I can’t imagine.) I know that the golf course that I’ll be looking out on from my lanai has closed, the "green" turned to brown. I know that I’ll be walking distance to one of the longest, most beautiful white sand beaches in all of Hawaii—and that my footprints may well be the only ones pressed in the sand on a given day. I know that I’ll be driving a ten-year-old Chevy with “iffy” air conditioning, and that I’ll be isolated, a long, long way from "home" and loved ones, and a long way from “civilization,” seven miles from the nearest anything, twenty from town and a decent sized grocery store (whatever that means on Molokai), and that, except for ten days in October that my sister will be there, I’ll be very much alone. And yes, I do know that out there in the middle of the vast Pacific, there is the possibility of things like hurricanes and tsunamis.

I also know that the plan to go to Hawaii for an extended time hatched out of what was maybe the darkest time I’d experienced through this whole year-plus of change. When I honest-to-god didn’t know how I was going to get through it all, when the shock of moving, of leaving, of separating, had worn off, and the real grief smashed like a high speed train straight into me, when I could barely drag myself out of bed to go to work—and some days couldn’t—when I learned in the midst of everything else that my oldest daughter was moving out of state, the idea flashed, not a bright and glorious beacon, but a speck, a tiny little pearl of possible salvation on an otherwise bleak and ever darkening horizon.

I know also that these days leading up to leaving have been hard ones. Packing up everything in our house. Going through old boxes of wedding and honeymoon and baby mementos. Deciding how much and what to hold on to, what to let go of. My wedding dress (hand-made by my mom), and shoes? (Vintage now, after thirty-one years.) The now badly tarnished silver champagne glasses we toasted with that were a gift from my mother-in-law? How about the sleepers my babies wore home from the hospital? The handmade Moses basket liner and blanket? Their baptism, preschool “graduation,” and first day of kindergarten dresses? The adorable pink bonnet, the one with white lace, that made the skin on their cheeks look even softer and peachier. (Was that possible??) Or the orthopedic shoes our youngest wore during her second and third months to straighten her inwardly growing feet?

Then there’s the older stuff I’ve had possession of for years: my mom’s high school yearbook, her last driver’s license, her address book, with friends and relative’s names in her big, loopy and confident handwriting. The letter from her oncologist in reponse to her giving up treatment, the guest book from her memorial service. Pictures of my dad when he was quarterback,#42, at McCloud High, Mt. Shasta rising snow-covered and majestic in the background? The letter to my grandma telling her that her son had been wounded in battle, wounds they hoped he would recover fully from. (No other information... what a torture for her and my grandpa.) My dad's old leather fireman’s helmet, #19, dating back to 1951, the year he started with the Hayward Fire Department; his death certificate and autopsy report, cause of death, a self-inflicted gun shot wound to the head, blood alcohol level .1, legally drunk, but practically sober for him.

Some things definitely better left behind.

The guillotine is starting to make sense. Yes, there is much I know about Molokai, though it is insignificant compared to what I don’t know. But more to the point, I think, is what Molokai represents. It has been a year filled with nothing but endings, and with our house closing right before I’m set to leave, those continue right up until I walk through security and onto the Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 767 that will carry me to Honolulu, and where I will make my connection to Molokai. I see now that Molokai represents a type of free-zone, a three month stretch of time between endings and what I know my psyche understands will be beginnings (read: more unknowns); a buffer zone, if you will, between the old and new; the gestation period that always, always comes between death and rebirth.

I hope that Molokai will be above all else, a place to rest, to recoup, to begin to rejuvenate; that it will be both winter and spring. Hawaii was the only choice. My spiritual home, the only spot on earth I knew I could go to and be okay. The plan is simple, to walk, swim, read, write, and above all, to lay my weary bones in her great, nurturing lap, and allow her warm waters and fresh tropical breezes, the scents of plumeria and ginger to wash like a balm over me. My sense is that it won't matter that the green has turned brown, or that I won't be in the lush tropics that I love so about Hawaii (and hey, I'll have the Chevy, and the ability to drive to the other side of the island, the rainy, tropical side, when I feel the need, after all, it's not far). It's about the air itself, and the energy, and the fact that this little island chain is the most remote in the world, the farthest removed from any large land mass, isolated, untouched, alive in a way that can only be felt; the quintessential nurturing, renewing, healing yin energy.

I plan to feel it every moment, every day that I am there. The intention is mine, the work is hers. Thankfully, she has never let me down.

Aloha for now.

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