Thursday, December 31, 2015

Mahalo: There Are Two Sides To Every Story

Years ago, while I was reading Toby Neal's Christmas e-newsletter, I had some sort of out of body experience. Although I was completely focused on the computer screen in front of me, I was also strangely disconnected from my body--and it made me feel more alive than ever.

Toby is a mystery writer who lives in Hawaii. Her books entertain us and her newsletters keep us up to date on American life off the mainland. In this particular newsletter, she had included pictures that captured the beauty of Maui in such a way that for a moment or two, I was there with her family, smiling up at the sun and breathing in the salty air. 

My messy life with all of its problems dropped away, and my soul wandered through the sandy paradise that Toby is immersed in every day. Back in my New York bedroom, the wind howled and tossed the snow around outside my window, but I stared at my laptop screen and thought, It looks so peaceful in Hawaii. I'd really like to go there one day.   
It's as beautiful as it seems. Even more so.

And just like that, I let the thought go. I went back to enjoying Toby's pictures and musings, all the while appreciating that she had shared her experience. 

Two weeks later, when I saw a Facebook post about a timeshare that was available for rent, my heart skipped an excited beat. A quiet ding went off inside of me as if I were checking off a task I had every intention of completing. The timeshare was cheap and close to the beach. It was in Oahu, Hawaii.

It belonged to a friend of a friend, so I reached out to my friend and she put us in touch with each other. After just one conversation, I jumped on the opportunity to surprise my daughter with an amazing graduation gift and to check off an item on my bucket list. While we worked out the details, I made a new friend, Missy. 

This was the view from my room!

But as the vacation approached, life happened. My job cut my hours by more than half. My oldest child was about to start college and suddenly paying for her education and eating were two luxuries I couldn't afford.

I knew had to cancel my travel plans. I was disappointed on the surface, but strangely, underneath, I was also calm. Sad or not, something told me that I needed to ride this wave wherever it took me.

Unfortunately, it didn't take me to anywhere like Hawaii. My daughter started school and had to drop out of the trip. My brief and unhappy marriage dissolved and my divorce was finalized. I started working a second, part time job to supplement the income I had lost. Instead of paradise, I visited a life lesson or two and I licked a few ego wounds.

In the meantime, Missy refused to give up. She worked behind the scenes to reschedule my trip, keeping my dream of visiting Hawaii alive, even though neither of us was sure that I could pull it off.

With her in my corner, I learned how much individuals can gain from having a strong support system. After years of having to figure everything out for myself and my kids on my own, I felt like my happiness mattered to someone. I kept slogging along, determined to see the light (and hopefully the beach!) at the end of this dark time.

It was almost a year later, and only a month before we were supposed to go, when finally, and without any effort on my part, everything fell into place. In April, during one of the longest, coldest winters New York has seen in a long time, my kids and I got on a plane and took the thirteen hour flight to Honolulu.

Max made sure we'd find our bags easily

It wasn't until we were there for two days that it really hit me. Each morning, I got up at 5 am without an alarm and walked around the corner to Starbucks. I enjoyed the sunrise and my coffee on the outside patio. By then, I had learned the Hawaiian word for deep gratitude--Mahalo--and I said it to the Universe for making that warm, beautiful vacation possible. But on Day Two, I realized that this was so much more than an island getaway.

Some of my favorite things

If I had taken the trip when we originally planned, I wouldn't have bonded as much with my new friend, Missy. And I don't think I would have appreciated the gift of waking up each morning because I wanted to--not because I had to. At home, I was a single mother of three, working multiple jobs to make ends meet. I considered trips like this impossible. So, not having to be tied to a schedule or my usual responsibilities meant more to me, especially after the dark period I had just come out of. Mahalo.

My relaxed face

The kids and I ventured outside of the pretty tourist area of Waikiki and hiked through the rural area of Honolulu. We passed small schools and crowded yards with barking dogs. We saw signs pleading with developers to stop destroying the land. And in the urban areas, just outside blocks and blocks of upscale chains like Coach and Cheesecake Factory, there was so much homelessness and poverty that it made me wonder what the locals really thought about us being there.

Someone's bed and belongings
The kids and I ventured outside of the pretty tourist area of Waikiki and hiked through the rural area of Honolulu. We passed small schools and crowded yards with barking dogs. We saw signs pleading with developers to stop destroying the land. And in the urban areas, just outside blocks and blocks of upscale chains like Coach and Cheesecake Factory, there was so much homelessness and poverty that it made me wonder what the locals really thought about us being there.

The contrast was so profound, I'd have to be in a coma not to feel grateful for the opportunity to be spending time with my kids in one of the most beautiful places in the world. And when it was over, I was grateful to return home to a life that wasn't as hard as I had imagined before I left. Mahalo.

Fireworks on the beach. Sorry about the flash!
Since the trip, I have relaxed more and worried less. Things have gotten easier for me, and I am excited about what is in store for me each day. I still have problems, but now they are just another piece of the path I am traveling on--one that always seems to lead to something better. Mahalo.

Paddle boarding in the lagoon

I'd do it again in a minute

CF Winn is the award-winning author of The COFFEE BREAK SERIES, a quirky group of short stories meant to be read while on break or in the waiting room of the doctor’s office. Her first novella, SUKI, has been grabbing hearts and hugging souls all over the United States. 

You can now order SUKI in paperback at BOOK REVUE, one of the nation’s largest independent bookstores, by email at Learn more about SUKI at BOOK REVUE.  

Her blogs have been syndicated on multiple sites including The Masquerade Crew. More posts like these can be found at Humor Outcasts and The Patch where she is a regular contributor.  

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Toby Neal said...

I love this story. THanks so much for sharing, and for your eyes open to see the complexity and layers of the "real Hawaii" which is what I write about in the Lei Crime Series. Yes, it's paradise...and its complicated.

CF Winn said...

Thank YOU Toby for being my muse and catalyst. You are so lucky to live in a place that offers so many things.

Heather Jackson said...

What a great experience! Glad you enjoyed yourself but also came away with some perspective, and thanks for sharing that, because I needed some perspective today. I'm going through a tough time, but being reminded that there are people out there who have it much worse kind of makes me pull up my bootstraps, stop moping, and deal with it. So big hugs for that!

CF Winn said...

I'm so glad that something I said helped you out when you needed it Heather! Whenever I feel disconnected, I look back on this experience, and it really helps. But I am dying to go back, so I'm trying to relax and let it happen as it's supposed to. Big hugs back and I hope tomorrow is even better!

Liv bySurprise said...

Ahhhh.ld love to go to Hawaii...what a treat!

CF Winn said...

I hope you get there Liv bySurprise!

Lori Gama said...

I've been to Kauai and it's very enchanting. Try that island next time you go back. Magical.

CF Winn said...

Thank you for the suggestion Lori! I think I'll start looking into it now.

by natalia said...

Very good blog !
Regards and I invite you on my blog ! :)

Blogs by FA said...

Seems you had a great time. I would love to visit the place some day!

Fatima |

CF Winn said...

Thank you Natalia and Fa!

Daria Vinning said...

Awesome story! Glad you enjoyed yourself! Getting away is good at times if you have the opportunity to do so. It put things in perspective of your reality life, and like you stated when you arrive back to reality you are able to be refresh and relax and realize things can be far worse. I just left Cozumel about 2 weeks ago. It was a much needed trip. I too have been stressed beyond measure so the trip definitely helped. I'm looking forward to the next one. I want to visit Hawaii myself one day. Thanks for sharing!

CF Winn said...

Thank you for reading and commenting Daria. Cozumel is on my list of places to go, but I have been to Juarez, Puerto Vallarta, and Mexico City--where I learned that I adore tortilla soup!I'm glad that you got to de-stress also. My next post is about a short trip I just took to Canada. My kids and I blew off some steam like a bunch of little kids in an amusement park. Really. I taught them how to do bumper cars old school Getting a change of scenery is sometimes all it takes to remember that life is fun. :)