Jun 11, 2014

Where I Belong

Ah, the island life.  Sabbath morning, April 12, 2014, Saipan

From a computer journal entry during our mission to Saipan this past spring:

 Wednesday, April 16, 2014

We’re just past the midway point of our time in Saipan.  Three more days and then we begin the long journey back to Columbus.  Can’t really say back home because this. . .this feels like home.  We’ve fallen into a routine of sorts.  It’s not the routine I would have chosen but it is a routine nonetheless.  Mornings start early.  Elijah has not managed to conquer jet lag and is often up between 3 and 4 A.M. every day.  He gets drowsy at lunch, maybe takes a too-short afternoon nap and then falls asleep at supper.  He’s out for the night after that, never really waking up until early the next morning. Babs and I tend to get up early also, usually by 5 or so.  She’s been working on projects for the school and I am usually working on fleshing out the morning’s week of prayer message.  By seven I’m rushing off to the school.  I attend staff worship and then spend the last 30 minutes working over my presentation.  From 8 to 9 is week of prayer and then stories with the pre-school.  Elijah and I do our skits and the kids love it.  Then we seem to mill around the school for a bit.  The boys playing on the playground while Barbara works on school stuff and I try to grab some precious internet time.  Then it’s off to the Piersons for a playdate until lunch when invariably we’ve got some friends to meet.  Virle on Monday, the Kosacks yesterday, and the Quinns today.  Then it’s back home for a quick nap and some beach time (though this time we got back so late from the Quinns that we decided to forgo the beach time for a nap instead).  Then it’s out for dinner.  Michelle and Danielle on Monday at Coffee Care.  Last night with Nei and Myla at the Shack.  Tonight we’re at the Pierson’s house. 

Home is where we belong, where we feel most comfortable, where we feel most free to be ourselves.  Of course home is where the heart is, so where friends and family are most often define home for us.  But there's another dimension to home as well, a more geographic sense of belonging.  For some of us there are particular places, particular climates, particular ways of living that just fit.  For some it's the small town or life on the farm.  For others it's big city living.  Some just need to live where it snows.  I met a woman on the flight back from Hawaii, who was born and raised in Hawaii but has lived in Montana for the past 37 years.  Why?  I'm sure there are many reasons but what she told me is that she just loves to drive for hours and hours, and the wide open spaces of Big Sky Country give her that.

As for me, while I politely nodded and smiled, I was thinking: "Are you out of your mind?  Why would you ever leave Hawaii for Montana."

One thing the two big trips I've taken in the last two months have made abundantly clear is that I know where I belong:  the islands.  It's hard to describe the deep sense of belonging, of being at home that I felt during the eleven years I lived in Saipan, and on the return visits since we moved away.  I felt it again last week in Hawaii.  Island life is the life for me.

A few"love-hates" that explain why island living is the perfect fit for me:
A typical island gathering.  How many different cultures can you pick out in this room?  Friday night TGIS at the Maycocks, Saipan, April 18, 2014.

I love the melange of cultures that seem to make up the islands I know.  From my ancestral home of Trinidad (which I've never visited--a situation that really needs be corrected) with it's vivid mix of people of African, Caucasian, Chinese, and Indian descent to Hawaii's multi-Asian diaspora to Saipan's unique location as a crossroads of the Pacific, with even the indigenous Chamorro marked by history ethnic and cultural intermingling, the islands seem to particularly favorable to mixing things up.  I loved that in Saipan our multi-racial family was not the curious exception but the unremarkable rule.  

This is the only white stuff I want to see.  I'll take  blue water and white sand over water frozen white and fingers blue from the cold any day.  Managaha Island, Saipan, Friday, April 18, 2014

I hate the cold. Let me clear, when I talk about the islands I'm not talking about the Aleutians. I could banish winter forever and never miss it.  If I ever found I had to have snow, a trip to a winter clime like our friends the Quinns do each year would suffice.

I love the easy-going pace of life. In Saipan, the highest speed limit is 40 (maybe 45) miles per hour on a stretch of four-lane road heading out towards San Roque.  The rule seems to be 5 under rather than 5 over and you'll get the middle finger (usually in speed bump heavy residential neighborhoods) for going too fast, not too slow.  Island time is what it's all about.  "It's fine. You're in Hawaii. We all can relax."  my former student Cui Xian Xian soothed in a text message replying to some mainland-style concern I had about scheduling during our class trip last week.  And something feels so right about the island uniform of zorries, shorts, and a t-shirt, where even bankers and politicians keep it casual with muted Aloha shirts and khakis.  Ties are for lawyers going to court and those ever faithful Mormon missionaries (though my LDS friends that actually live in the islands dress down as much as anyone else).

The truth is I hate driving. Road trips are great and all, but those can be done on summer trips to the Mainland.  Daily driving out of necessity, on the other hand, I can do without.  If I want to do some serious hiking here in Ohio, it's gonna be an hour or more out the Hocking Hills.  And heaven help me if I fee like going to the beach. I like that in the islands, there is so much to do and you can get to it all without having to drive for hours.  And when its time to leave the island, these days there's usually only one way out--by plane. And I love flying.

Make no mistake, I don't have any romantic notions about life in the islands. I understand that when you're not on vacation, it's pretty much like Ohio or Wisconsion or California or New York.  It's work, family obligations, tight budgets, church, the usual stuff of life in the Western world early in the 21st century.  My week in Saipan wasn't all nonstop spiritual mountaintop mission moments and beach bumming.  I spent time going to the bank, the grocery store, the post office and  filing taxes.  But to live that sometimes hum-drum day-to-day on island, with the backdrop of magnifcient sunsets across the water on the late commute home, to have a free fun day for the budget-conscious family at a white sand beach, to worship in a place like this:

One of my students meditating in the sanctuary of my favorite church on the planet, the Kailua Seventh-day Adventist Church. Sabbath, May 31, 2014

How could anyone not want a life like that?  And yet I'm finding that many people don't.  

A lot of people talk a big game about running away to the islands. My cousin William used to swear every time I saw him during our Saipan years that he was ready to drop out of the rat race and join me in paradise. But the thing is, if you really want to do it, you can.  Last week,a couple of my 8th graders talked about wanting to move to Hawaii when they were older and I told them--it's totally possible.  Yet many people believe--maybe need to believe--it's a dream, a fantasy.  For many the islands are where you go on vacation, but you'd never want to live there.  The heat, the claustrophobia, the lack of "big-city" culture, the distance from loved ones back on the Mainland?  Grocery stores missing basic items like ricotta cheese?Humbler homes than what you might live in the states?   No, thank you.  During our time in Saipan we saw so many people come and go.  Some hated it, barely survived whatever commitment they'd made to being there (if they could make it that long) and hustled back to the so-called real world as quickly as they could.  Others liked it well enough,  and were sad to leave at the end of their year or two or five, but there was never any question about their leaving.  Home was somewhere else.  Indeed I find there aren't many people who really are cut out for island life (besides those for whom the island is their literal cultural and geographic home).   But we are.  And that's why I believe that someday we will return.  That was the big question  when we were in Saipan.  Are you coming back?  And there more I think about it the more I think the answer is yes. . .someday.  Now is not the time, but I believe the time will come.  We have not only the desire but the responsibility to go back because we can both do it and love it, and there's not many that can.

For now, I like to think of ourselves like rich folk.  You know how the super-wealthy have multiple homes?  Well, I feel like we have two homes too--one in the islands and one here in Ohio. One second thought, make that three.  I haven't been to the third Home yet, but I can't help feeling that it's going to be at least a little bit like living in the islands.

Jun 6, 2014

Trip of a Lifetime

The five eighth grade students who took the life-changing trip of a lifetime to Hawaii.  (This photo was taken on Sunday, June 1, 2014 at what I believe is the Halona Blow Hole on the southern end of Oahu, Hawaii)

Yesterday I returned from the second impossible trip of this year.  The Saipan trip still hasn't been fully recapped on these pages (though I promise, the rest of the posts on that epic trip are coming. . .and soon), and I now have a series of entries lined up on another trip that seemed a like a fantasy at first--but became a life-changing reality nonetheless:  The CAA 8th grade class trip to Hawaii.

This was truly the trip of a lifetime.  It took me awhile to really get that.  I've been to Hawaii so many times that while it's never lost it's allure, it feels very familiar to me. But as my students and I hustled to raise the funds for the trip, as we answered the standard "So where are you going on the class trip" and witnessed the surprise, awe, and on occasion barely concealed, almost hostile jealousy it began to dawn on me that this was no ordinary 8th grade class trip.  We were planning to take a trip that many people dream of their entire lives, a trip that they may never have the chance to take.  For many Americans the 50th state is almost a fantasy, a place you may visit once in your life (for a honeymoon or an anniversary) and maybe never again.

In a sense, this trip brought me back to what had always been the vision I'd had for class trips back in Saipan; to take kids to a place most of them had never been and might not have the chance to see again.  I wanted the students to have an experience of a lifetime, not just a few days of fun or a few days of museum visits, but an exposure to a new and different world, an experience that would be both fun and deeply educational, one that would help them see the world in a whole new way.  I believe we accomplished that with this journey to Hawaii.  And we accomplished something else I hadn't quite anticipated.  This trip may have been life-changing as well. The students realized that this was not merely a neat place they visited, but a place they could one day live, if they wanted to.  It was so inspiring to see the students realize that the world was a whole lot bigger than they thought, and that their options for a life well-lived were far greater than they had imagined.

I've never been inclined to "standardize" my class trips, so that each year we go to the same place and do the same things.  I realize that for larger schools this is a practical necessity.  But I've been blessed to teach in small schools with lean, nimble classes that could plan a different, unique trip every year. But if there were ever a destination I'd consider standardizing, Hawaii would have to be it.  I want every 8th grade class I teach to have this life-changing, eye-opening, mind-expanding, unforgettable, beautiful trip of a lifetime:

Well,that's it 8th grade trip is finished I had so much fun in Honolulu/Hawaii I can't believe I saw fish swimming around me I was so amazed of what I saw, I'm going 2 miss all my 8th graders that went on the trip and those who didn't, I had do much fun with every single one of them, and I'm happy that I got 2go 2 Honolulu and I'm just so happy, and now as we move on to,high school I will never forget this trip of a life time and I will never forget the fun I had and also I will never forget my friends, god bless you all amen
                           --Facebook status update by one of my students, as he reflects back on his class trip.

In the coming weeks keep an eye out for the a series of blogs that will capture this amazing adventure we shared in Hawaii.