Clean, ocean air. Silence broken only by waves. Mornings that greet you with brightness and expectation and warmth, like a friend’s embrace. Aloha. Kauai.
As I write these words, casting my mind to the brief times I spent, in 2005 and 2006, on that island, I can feel my body suffused with desire and longing. Yearning. For the air, the silence, the stars.
I have spent a great deal of my adult life moving about, going from one place to another. Sometimes searching for a home, sometimes trying to outrun myself and find a new me (that never seems to work), sometimes in the pursuit of knowledge or love or a dream of a place. Because of this—and mostly because of my habit of running away instead of toward something—I am suspicious of my motivations when I consider moving someplace. So I struggle against my yearning, not trusting it, sizing it up to see if it’s going to turn around and bite me. Yet it remains, this fantasy of someday moving to Kauai.
(And no, I’m not talking about even considering this until after my PhD is complete.)
If the greatest gift I received from Joya is her love and support (lasting even after we are no longer “together”), the second greatest was the opportunity, with her family, of going to Kauai and spending time on this beautiful island, of allowing me to experience the air and the silence and the mornings full of warmth and light and the rainbows and the chickens and the ocean and the feeling of being in a place that felt so entirely safe and that made me feel grounded in ways that I cannot really attribute to any other place I’ve visited.1
But then the voice inside warns: this is nostalgia, this is a feeling that you have inscribed and re-inscribed over the years and made all the bigger and more beautiful than it ever was in real life, and you are just looking for a place to run, a place to hide from the world and yourself, a place that is nearly as far away as you can get.
And I wonder: what is the difference between a necessary fantasy and actual necessity? Is going to Hawaii a necessary thing for me to do? A goal that I should plan for and figure out how to make happen despite any logistical issues? Do I ignore the voice who argues against it and listen to desire or do I listen to practicality and ignore the yearning for a place I’ve only been in for what, 20 days? 20 days out of 40 years. Even if I were to go back for another 10, 25, 20, even 30 days, how could I know that moving there is the right thing to do? Instincts? Gut feeling? I don’t necessarily trust those. At least not unreservedly so. Even if I did seriously plan for this, I would need a job, preferably teaching, that could help pay back my student loans in addition to supporting me and, really, what are the chances of there being a job in the University or Community college system out there just when I become available for the job market? But if this is more than just a fantasy, should I assume that I can overcome those kinds of obstacles in order to make it happen? When I tell someone about these plans, when I mention how I felt more peaceful and grounded on that small island in the Pacific then anywhere else I can remember, I will sometimes choke back tears because something in me has been wounded for years and is desperate to recapture that feeling of peace and of being grounded, of being in a place that will allow me the security and space to be more fully myself. Is the lesson here that I deserve to go there and find what I’m looking for or that I need to find a way to make my peace here and now, to recover myself to myself in Pittsburgh?
Ok, so I know the answer to this is the latter and that it would be folly to expect a place, even a place as beautiful as Kauai, to “fix” me in any real way. Still, is there something wrong with wanting to be in a place that resonates in such a way as to give you strength and courage and that might reveal yourself more fully to yourself than other places? I don’t know. I don’t need to know. At least not today. Not this year even. Not for several years. Still, I wonder, I dream, I doubt, I yearn for the air, the ocean, the silence, the stars, the light, the warmth, the island, Kauai.