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The end of a season is a good time for reflection. Ideally, summer includes time for rest and renewal. These days, our lives are such a blur, the moments of contemplation may be few, but a languid spirit may still take over during the warm months. Our moods might include favorite memories of vacations from school in childhood. Real or imagined, it seems like once there were days when time was enormous. If we're lucky, summer includes a chance to get away, or at least be outside a bit more. Our love of nature may be revisited. We can listen more closely to the wisdom of the body.
I'm grateful to get a real vacation this year. It's a trip to the big island of Hawaii. Both Anne and I love to snorkel, so it's a chance to be seriously one with the fishes. The trip is for the wedding of Anne's beloved niece, who fell for a guy who grew up on the Kona coast. Actually, it's the bride who looks like a local. She could pass for an island princess, as she favors her Filipino mother's beauty.
So, the big extended family descends on paradise to witness the vows in the famous painted chapel. The big day is splendid. The words to the Hawaiian Wedding Song play in mind during the nuptials, "This is the moment, of sweet Aloha...." The old priest is a native son who gently conveys the island spirit. A friend plays a ukulele medley of Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World as a kind breeze drifts in through open windows. Somewhere, angels weep with joy.
Grand as a wedding is, it is an occasion that may bring emotion. Of course, we are happy for the couple, especially if we like the new member of the family. Still, it is one of life's big moments, reminding us the years are passing. Some of those gathered are probably crossing life-stage thresholds while enjoying the service. Ritual moments can stir us to ponder how our hopes and dreams shift as we age. We find ourselves marking the journey between the plans of youth and the satisfactions of age.
The wedding feast is at a fine old oceanfront house in Kona (that still has the books and paintings of the family that grew up there in the thirties). We eat way too much Filipino food and watch a video of the couple from childhood to courtship. Those images touch everyone. I think you could walk into a wedding of complete strangers and cry at the video.
Mothers seem to be in their element at weddings. It's the fathers that reveal the poignant undercurrents. Anne's brother makes a toast that becomes a touching speech about love. It shows what we already know, that family means the world to him. The groom's father makes a good joke about how this is a fine day off from slaving away at the office. He captains a boat for fishing and diving outings. His days at the "office" are out in the crystal sea chasing fish. He regales us with colorful tales, the kind you only seem to hear from old salts. The bride's people work mostly in technology and research, so the mingling of families is truly an inter-tribal event.
When evening approaches, the group goes out on the rocks to watch the sun slide down into the tranquil sea. As the last rays disappear, to our delight, we all see the mysterious green flash. In many visits to the islands for work and play, I've never before seen the strange green ray that flares just at the moment of final sunset. As if to bless this special occasion, here it is -- in full verdant glory. Thrilled to have seen the magic, we drift back to the house to dance into the night and soak the newlyweds with love and encouragement.
Anne and I stay a week after the festivities to enjoy the island wonders. She peruses bird and tree books to get familiar with the exotic flora and fauna. A variety of splendidly feathered visitors stop by our balcony for crumbs. Anne also gets to know the names of the fish we've been following around underwater.
Our snorkel adventures get better each day as we discover ever better dive sites. A few years back, we had a chance to explore parts of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, but this is even more dazzling. A diverse abundance of outlandish creatures swirl around us in their vibrant colors, as we glide through canyons of coral formations. The immersion in tropical vitality is breathtaking. We enter a world waiting just a few feet away from daily life that is virtually a parallel reality.
As teachers, we are people of ideas, but hours pass without thought, as we become temporary dwellers of the deep. At my age, vacations aren't exactly athletic, but snorkeling is simple, and it's amazing how nimble one can be in the water. The thrill of following a school of tiny fish seems to inspire the body into agile twists and turns with surprising ease.
Well, all things must end. As we pack to leave, South Pacific is on PBS. The story is such a poignant blend of exuberance and longing. Our wistful mood is mirrored by the haunting lyrics, Bali Hai is calling, come to me, come to m.... and, If you never have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true.
In the imagination, tropical islands may represent a place to be discovered in ourselves. A lovely image we glimpse on the horizon can signify an elusive purity of contentment so close you can see it. This trip is one of those rare visits to beauty, love, and magic. Our snapshots barely touch the exquisiteness of the place, but when we get too old to travel, we can flip through the pictures and reminisce.
Travel can lead to musing on what we value. There is often an element of pilgrimage involved, even in an ordinary vacation. We may realize what the journey is about only after the fact. This time maybe the trip was hoping to revisit Eden. If that was the longing, the project was at least a partial success. After all the standard frustrations of travel, there are moments when innocence and the wonder of nature simply wash over us.
The end of summer can be bittersweet. As we prepare for the busyness of autumn, we may find ourselves savoring the relaxation we managed to enjoy. We might also ponder what the warm days have meant to us, and, if we are so lucky, all the surprising things travel has taught us about ourselves.