We usually spend all our time in the rural portions of Hawaii; in the parks with the kid’s soccer teams, in the botanical gardens with the ducks, and with the turtles on the North Shore. This is partially because we prefer these places, but practically, it is also due to the fact that our boys have a 20 minutes of happy car time limit, and Joe hates finding parking in Honolulu even more than the boys hate the car (which should tell you something.) So we generally stay away from Honolulu, and we definitely stay away from Waikiki.
But we got a little bold this week and went down to the beach in Waikiki for a trip to the beach. And there’s something different about this side. It’s easier, among the tourists and the tall downtown buildings, to remember how far away from anything we are. Life is so normal on the leeward side; it’s the way it is and the way it’s always been done and it is comfortable and familiar.
But here in Waikiki, I see the visitor’s awe and awkwardness with things they they are not used to and I remember I knew this too; the surprise at the the bright sun that burned me faster than I thought, the strength of the currents I was not used to paddling, and the unusual beauty of the wind-propelled sailboats cutting through the waves.
And the buildings are out of place too. The low houses covered in hibiscus and bougainvillea in the rural areas seem like they just grew there; a natural progression from the crab’s rock houses among the coral. But these tall, flashing skyscrapers are such a contrast that we are reminded that they don’t belong here, that their materials must have been shipped here, thousands of miles, bobbing up and down on large container ships, fighting the same waves and currents.
But even among the contrasts, there are some reminders of the old Hawaii. There are still colorful fish here in the water, and white sea birds, and long, old stone piers that stretch through the blue-green waves, and we still leave these beaches the same way, exhausted, wet, and covered in sand.
And since we’re right on the edge of the water, near the airports, there is a stream of airplanes in their steady arc up to the clouds, off to Singapore or Vladivostok or Anchorage.
And they remind us from where we’ve all come, the tourists and the buildings and us; from a different continent, somehow congregating here, on this tiny piece of land in the middle of the biggest ocean in the world, as far away from a land mass as you can possibly get. It reminds us of our smallness, of these islands’ smallness, in the middle of this ocean, in the middle of the world. That somehow in the middle of a million million galaxies, we are here today feet on the ground, fish in the sea, planes in the sky.