This Above All.

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So I was watching ‘reality TV’ last night while I elevated my broken ankle. Near the end of the show, one of the characters, who had faced her share of challenges, both physical and mental, and who had stared down her fears, stated simply that she liked herself. She was happy with who she was.

I thought about that statement for a long while. She didn’t say it with bluster or defiance. She didn’t say it as a challenge or an excuse. It was a matter-of-fact declaration, and no explanation or details were necessary. I admire that.

So much of the time, we are surrounded by reasons we shouldn’t or can’t like ourselves or why we don’t measure up. We’ve been socially trained to fall in line and go along, to walk the well-trodden path. We are conditioned to desire some fictional ideal. We suppress or redirect or dismiss a lot of our feelings and opinions and instincts, and that is normal to us. But (thankfully) there are always those who step out of line and out of the box, who unashamedly announce their independence. Confident and seemingly fearless, they don’t waste precious time worrying about what other people think of them or the social mores they might trample. They don’t strive to be like someone else. They just live.

Wouldn’t that be nice? I covet that confidence. I wish I had it. I wish everyone had it. It takes courage and deliberate effort to be your own ‘authentic self’ (a term I’ve seen a lot in recent years). I think we get used to filtering our own voice through so many layers of expectations that we sometimes forget what it sounds like. We forget that we are just as important and relevant as every other person out there. Period. No more, no less. We forget that the media, in all their different forms, make choices for us and influence our behavior so relentlessly that we begin to accept that behavior as our own, even when it isn’t. We allow ourselves to be labeled and defined even when those labels and definitions don’t fit. We let other people decide who we are, what we do, and how we feel. It’s like 7th grade, forever: the Cool Kids decide who the Uncool Kids are. Why is that?

Down deep, these independent souls know exactly who they are. Not who they’d like to be, who they think they should be, who they were expected to be, or who someone else wants them to be — who they really are. And they are satisfied with that.

Sure, there is probably always room to improve – to learn something new, to work on a bad habit, to develop discipline. But these improvements come from a genuine place, not a desire to fit a role or external expectation. That’s the difference between them and the rest of this self-help society. When we let the external decide the internal, we don’t grow, and we don’t learn who we are. It is only when the internal decides the external that we mature and develop.

We can all be authentic and true to ourselves, and we should, but it’s easier for some folks than it is for the rest of us. I struggle with this a lot and find myself going along to get along in many situations. Why?  I’m not entirely sure. I wish I knew. I’m better at listening to my inner self and my heart than I was when I was younger, and maybe that’s all part of growing up and living, but I still find myself wishing I had the courage to step out of line once in a while.

Are you allowing someone or something else to define you? Are you bearing the burden of expectations from family or friends or society? Do you feel as if you are playing a role, not actually living your life?

Or are you satisfied with the person you are, even if you think you could improve? Are you listening to your fundamental values and inner voice?

Life is short. I believe we are all given the gift of life with some purpose, and it is our responsibility to find out what that purpose is and pursue it. In order to do that, we have to listen to what is inside us, not the clamor outside. What is reflected back at us from the fun house mirror of society and the world is merely a shallow distortion of who we are and who we can be.

You are not less than, and you are not more than. You are enough. You can be content with your strengths and weaknesses, your motives, your beliefs, and your traits. You are imperfect and unique. You can be a work in progress, and there is no shame in that. If you are working on yourself – physically, emotionally, spiritually, or behaviorally – you have a goal and a direction. You get to decide what you truly value and what inspires you. You get to decide what you will discard and what you will allow.

I’m rambling now.  But that simple, televised proclamation of acceptance and satisfaction really resonated with me. It may be easier to follow the path others have set you on, but you and I both know it is more satisfying and soul-sustaining to choose your steps with the confidence of knowing that this is the right thing for you.

Discover yourself.

This above all:
To thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
 — Hamlet, Act 1, scene 3

Aloha.

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I wanted to love you, Hawai’i, I really did.  I held on for a long time, hoping things would get better.  I tried.

It just didn’t work out between us.

I’ve admired you from afar, and for many years I’d heard so many nice things about you.  Friends said we were destined for the long term.  You were beautiful, wild and free.  I hoped one day to meet you.

So when the chance finally came for us to spend time together, the anticipation bubbled up in me.  And you didn’t disappoint.  No, you were as handsome and lovely as they all said you were, lush and vibrant and serene all at once.  I marveled.

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You fed my stomach and you fed my soul.

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We explored each other warily for the first days, you and I.  At times breezy, you turned sultry as the evenings settled.

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You offered a lot of fun, but I also saw your somber side at Pearl Harbor.

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The next day, you showed me a parrot fish munching coral at Hanauma Bay and a wonderful luau and dinner show later.

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You taught me the story behind the “shaka.”  Our time together was going smoothly, and you and I got along just fine, Hawai’i.

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But things turned sour at Haleiwa, on our trip up to the North Shore, right after the butter garlic shrimp at Macky’s.

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I mean, really.  I was just going for a ride, but that tour bus guide had other plans. You really hurt me that day, but I stayed with you.

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That sprained ankle slowed me down.

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The wheelchair helped, but I have to admit it put a crimp in our relationship, which had started off so well.  Now I couldn’t be as freewheeling and spontaneous as you wanted me to be.

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Now I had to temper my enthusiasm with a painful slice of reality – an Ace bandage and a cane.

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Still, we dined happily with dear friends who were glad to meet you, too, and the bag of ice was a small price to pay.  (The cab fare was another matter entirely.)

I gamely went along with the original plan, getting to know you better.  We went to Hilo, where you showed me your active volcano and the beauty of its stark landscape.  20160505_184700[1]

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It was almost romantic, dining on ahi poke, illuminated by your evening glow. There was still so much to learn about you.

I sensed the best was yet to come.

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In the morning we met an old friend for the first time.  We swam with her in the warm, thermal waters near Pahoa.  We saw myriad little fish swarm near the boat launch and the young boy practicing surfing near the breakwater.

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We met some new, friendly faces and petted some dogs on boogie boards; we also met a not-so-friendly sea urchin that left its marks.

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We even saw where Pele stopped to rest last year, leaned up against a fence at the city dump.  I should have known that the churning in our guts was a foreboding.

We drove around the coastline, determined to see as much as we could.

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We saw huge boulders churning in the waves, testimony to the sea’s incredible strength, and turtles riding the surge.

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Enormous palms and banyans provided shade while showy bougainvillea and trumpet vines climbed their trunks.

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It was lush and warm, and the sea breeze was just right.

Something ugly was brewing in that perfumed air, though.  Later on, I knew it: instead of butterflies, I felt an angry growl in my stomach.  What should have been a relaxing time of fun and laughter became exhausting.  My enthusiasm, like my energy, was draining away fast.  Maybe I should have known when the flight was cancelled, but the staff was helpful and eventually got us where we needed to be.  I still held out hope for us.

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Maui, the final destination, was supposed to be the best of all.

Only it wasn’t.  And after an hour and a half drive, inching our way over 20 miles to the resort, making arrangements to stay closer to the elevator in deference to my still-swollen ankle, and finally checking in, all we could do was collapse on the bed and sleep.

Hawai’i, your charm was fading fast.

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It rained from the sky straight into my heart, and even my best attempts at salvaging the days we had left were mostly fruitless.  We finally saw one of your fabled sunsets, but only briefly from under the heavy rain cloud, and only from our room, while we bitterly laughed at the irony.

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After two more nights of Gatorade, bananas and crackers, I no longer wanted to be with you.  I was no longer under your spell; I was tired, hurt, and deeply disappointed in you.  You weren’t what I had hoped for, and you weren’t what I was led to believe.

You were beautiful from a distance, but when I was with you, you smothered me, and I realized I couldn’t live that life.  It was time to go.

To be honest, these may have been the worst days of my life, made more so because they were supposed to be some of the best.  You mocked my plans.  You flouted my desire to do it all, and you made me unable to do anything.  Even the sun turned its back at the end.  So I don’t feel bad for ending it at all.  I’m not a quitter, but I know when I’m wasting my time.

So, goodbye, Hawai’i.  I’m breaking up with you.

Aloha.  I never want to see you again.  When I speak of you, it will be in past tense, because we don’t have a future together.  Your name will become synonymous with the worst of times, not the best of times.  When I hear it, it will bring to mind a broken ankle

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(it wasn’t a sprain, after all), food poisoning, and a sea urchin sting.  It will remind me of rain, dorky tour guides, and rude people.

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I may wistfully recall our time at Duke’s and Morimoto’s, but I am more likely to wince at the thought of that ahi poke.

And I couldn’t even find a decent cup of coffee.