Photo by Amber--I'm with Natalie, my fearless traveling companion, on a black sand beach. You can't see it in the photo, but there is huge sea turtle lounging on the sand just behind me.

I keep going back to an article in The Sun Magazine (December, 2007)by Heather Sellers, reflecting on her writing mentor, English professor Jerry Stern, who used to send her out on "errands," such as picking up a visiting writer from the airport or a book at the library. According to Jerry, these mundane tasks were an opportunity for awakening if you pay attention.

"He sent me on errands, and when I returned, he wanted to know, he needed to know: 'What did you notice? What was interesting?' He taught me that all writers are essentially travel writers. The trip hadn't really taken place until you'd found a story in it and told it. Only after shaping the trip into a narrative could you honestly say 'I'm back.'"

I love the idea of "errands" especially here in my new context, where I feel that thousands of stones remain unturned. And how I relish the project of turning them!

Heather Sellers also has some wonderful words about teaching and writing and living, which made me think of my friend Rachel, an amazing teacher in her own right.

"This is what we forget as teachers: how close the poor student often is to doing good work, and how great the distance feels to her between who she is and who she could be. We forget how painful it is to be between selves; how all of us, always, are between selves, and it is in that desolate gap that everything true and useful is happening."

What a hopeful idea. And I think it is hope, ultimately, that Jerry Stern offered his students. He offered them a reason to keep going deeper into the experience, with heart and eyes wide open. And it was this idea, especially, that helped Heather Sellers survive her first major depression:

"Burrow into what's interesting--in you, and in everyone else. Every moment on the planet has juice to yield. Everything is interesting if you truly want to know about it. Staying awake to that was the key to staying alive."


the healing island

Photo by Amber

I got a Valentine's Day pedicure: my nails are deep red with a rhinestone heart. Perhaps you're cringing at this description, as I certainly would if I was back on the mainland, but celebratory toes seem to make sense in this context, as do those crazy Hawaiian shirts, sea turtle decals, and hair clips adorned with plastic plumeria.

At the nail salon, I saw television coverage of the school shootings outside of Chicago. My heart broke as I heard the students talk about what they saw and experienced, and then, on the bottom of the screen I saw an additional news update. Did you know that there is a bus-sized satellite that has fallen out of orbit and is on a crash course with the earth? The U.S. is planning to shoot it down, apparently, because it also happens to be full of toxic chemicals.

So I was watching this school shooting with horror, and contemplating the likelihood that the satellite will land in the Pacific and cause a tsunami on the Kona coast, as a kind Korean woman gingerly applied rhinestones to my big toe. She said, "Be careful of these rhinestones. Sometimes they fall off."

I just nodded at her at the strangeness of it all, the impossibility of worrying about rhinestones, all things considered. And then on the way home, we saw two whales in the ocean. I have not seen whales since the day Amber and Charles married. So there seemed to me something cosmic in this as well. If nothing else it was a chance to reawaken to wonder despite all the horrors of our world.

We watched the whales with Anna and Natalie, and I thought about the school shootings and I wondered if I'd spent enough time that day kicking around with my kids, playing with them in the way they crave, awake to their fleeting beauty.

That night we dined with Fr. John's close friends who live two hours away on the other side of the island, but just happened to have chosen the same restaurant as we did, Sushi Shino, and planned to dine at the same time. So we sipped warm saki out of tiny ceramic cups and shared large platters of sushi and wondered why, if the U.S. is planning to take this renegade satellite out, they haven't gotten around to it yet?

It seems these kinds of coincidences happen a lot here in Hawaii. I'm always bumping into people I know and being helped by strangers in all sorts of surprising ways. Just the other day I walked a mile on a lava field to the beach, but realized that I couldn't make it all the way back in the blazing sun with Natalie on my back. I started walking and praying for a safe person to stop and offer a ride.

After a few cars passed a big white truck slowed, and the driver called out to me. I turned around and she was waving Natalie's hat, which had fallen off several bends back, but I hadn't noticed. Anyone who would rescue a baby's hat and search for the owner seemed like a safe enough bet.

So I could call these things coincidences or providence or chance, but whatever they are, I find them reassuring, especially as I struggle to get my bearings in this new setting. When I told someone from our church about our Valentine's Day coincidence and how these things seem to happen more often here, He said, "If you asked a Hawaiian priest about that, he would tell you that that is because this island is the newest land in the world, and the spirit of the Creator still hovers close."

Sometimes I think I know just what he means.


another day in paradise

Photo by Amber--I made her take this one shortly after she arrived because I was so tickled by the drive-through serve-yourself lei stand--perfect for moms on the go!

Most of my blog posts read like propaganda for The Big Island. Forgive me. Lately I've been through a rough patch which could help balance some of the more glowing posts.

Sometimes it seems like one "off" moment leads to several more--like you can almost feel the moment of derailment and you just grip your seat (and grit your teeth) for the rest of the ride, knowing that it can only get worse. So it all began last night when I was walking beside the ocean on Kona's main street with Natalie on my back and Anna beside me and somebody yelled out of their car, "Your babies are ugly!"

I was already in a bit of a funk, so the comment only served to further boost my spirits. And then there was the night--Natalie woke at least every two hours. I was like a zombie trying to tend to her, to quiet her, tiptoeing as to not disturb my downstairs neighbors.

In one of the sweet, brief respites from Natalie's cries, I was asleep in my cozy bed, dreaming of weaned offspring, and my cellphone rang. Because it was three a.m. I was alarmed. But there was no human on the other end, just a message to the effect of: "Call the job line, call the job line, city, state, jobs, call, call, call the job line. Thank you!"

So this morning began, as many others have as of late, with me suffering from a severe case of SMOP. That's Sudden Morning Onset Paralysis, for the uninitiated out there. When my SMOP is acute, I can barely move, I'm so tired, I just sit there sulking into my cup of coffee, wondering what went wrong with everything in the universe.

I somehow got Anna ready for school while Natalie emptied the contents of my wallet onto the floor. As I rushed out the door, I scooped up my credit cards and cash and jammed them back into my purse.

After I dropped Anna off, I decided to stop by the Toyota dealership to inquire about the check engine light, which had been steadily on since yesterday, evoking dread every time I turned on the car. They were able to take my car immediately, and asked me to wait for the shuttle to take me to Enterprise. The courtesy shuttle seemed to have vanished, though (No thank you for that). So I decided to hike to Enterprise which was only a few blocks away, but the blocks were long and hot with Natalie in my arms.

I managed to get lost on the short walk, and when someone finally explained to me where to go, I arrived a the bottom of a cliff and could see Enterprise on the top. There was a handy staircase, but it was gated at both the top and bottom (no walking allowed around here!) so I was forced to climb all the way around and follow the curving road up. When I finally got to Enterprise I discovered that my driver's license was gone, and then had visions of Natalie's morning project.

So there I was at Enterprise, having surrendered my own car and unable to rent one. Fortunately my parents were still here (for just a few hours) so my dad came and got me. I was weepy by that point and had already thrown my cellphone at the ground in a temper.

Shortly after I got home, I discovered my driver's license in my wallet (surprise). So my sweet father drove back to get me. He had several packages to post so I offered to take them into the post office. But the packages were heavy and cumbersome and when I got to the doors they both said "PULL." I stared at the doors and thought to myself "Where is that aloha spirit when you need it?" Suddenly a man inside spotted me and rushed to open the doors for me. He said, "Have a blessed day."

So I posted the packages, rented the car, took my family to the airport, picked up Anna from school and then got word that my car was ready. Just as I pulled into Enterprise, I checked the back seat. I saw something small and shimmering in the crack between the seats, ran my hands along it, and discovered a diamond ring with three stones!

So I took my find into Enterprise and they said they'd call the clients who'd rented the car before me. I called my mom to tell her the news and she said, "You really cleaned up!" I was shocked by her suggestion. "Well I didn't keep it," I said.
"I mean, you were cleaning, it's the cleaning part that impressed me," she said. "By the way, I just wanted to tell you that your dad has lost his driver's license."

So anyway, I guess it's genetic. I'm missing the critical gene that keeps track of things like keys and driver's licenses and cell phones. And then tonight, the grand finally to this most unusual day was that Anna lost her first tooth. I took the garbage out and came back to her and her buddy Reese jumping in the kitchen. Anna showed me the tooth--bloody on one end--with pride. And then she wrapped her arms around my waist and leaned into me.

I couldn't believe how perfect that tooth was, how small and sweet and white. And I can't believe that that tooth, which began to form when she was still in my womb-- that tooth I worried and sweat over and urged her to brush--is now waiting in a gold jewelry box beside her bed, waiting for the tooth fairy to claim it, waiting for me to come back in and linger a little longer over my baby, a little less baby with each passing day.