“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” KG
It’s fall here in New Hampshire and the cooler air has arrived. It’s late afternoon and the light against the pond has darkened already and the earlier warmth from the sun has disappeared. I look down at my hands as I write and I see the remnants of the Hawaiian sun still on my skin. How I wish it wouldn’t leave me. My heart squeezes up when I think of this special place.
Before I get started on Kauai, I’ll just announce that my brain MRI this week was CLEAR! It seems like a bit of a miracle really. I’m still having a hard time believing it but this smile on my face today feels a lot different then my smile 2 days ago. It’s a quiet joy for me, an incredibly special moment in my cancer journey. We all really needed this good news and I’m going to hold onto it as tightly as possible, for as long as possible.
Just before leaving for this trip, someone that has been a constant in my life passed away after a long struggle with illness. He was special to me in the way a family member is. I’m thinking of him and remembering what he brought to my life, everyone’s life and smiling with every memory that surfaces. I left NH with a heavy but grateful heart. I was on my way to spend 10 days with my Pops on the ‘Garden Isle’.
After my breast cancer decided to do some traveling of its own recently, heading northbound into the state of MB, MyBrain, my Dad decided we should go to Kauai. I was looking forward to us being camera nerds together and seeing the island the way he loves it. A place that has significant spiritual effects on many who visit there. I had been there a long time ago but was excited to return and see it through my new eyes and from a different perspective.
Hawaii is the most isolated inhabited land mass in the world…in the world! Seventy percent of the island of Kauai is inaccessible by foot and 97% of the land is used for conservation and agriculture. Kauai is home to one of the wettest places on earth. In a weeks time I saw more than 20 waterfalls and beautiful beaches, the grand canyon of the pacific, Waimea and more pikake and plumeria than I could pluck from the trees.
One of the best parts of this trip was actually learning a bit more about my Dad and his past. As he told me a little about his college and summer job days I found I was fascinated. I knew he had worked for a circus but I didn’t know the specifics. I had never heard some of these stories. He rode horses and tight rope walked and looked after elephants. He wrote a book of poetry. He was a working musician on the weekends, playing the guitar. I realized as we watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty that we laughed at the same parts and we both have this weird cough/laugh combo.
Kauai was a reminder to me that I don’t necessarily have to travel as far as I can in each direction to find beauty in our world. We have so much of it right here, in our own country. The dramatic cliffs of the Na Pali Coast, the waterfalls, the beaches, the gardens, the people, the culture, it’s stunning. I saw more beaches than I can list but my favorite is crystal clear in my mind, just like the water, Lumaha’i. I left part of my heart on that beach, in those warm black tide pools, in the gentle roll of the waves and the perfect feeling of seclusion and quiet. I’d give up a toe to be able to spend more time in that place, just not my big toe!
Dad took me to a luau and I have to admit that at first I was worried that there would be a serious lack of authenticity and history, an awkward sort of event for me. The drumming and the dancing was fantastic and maybe it was cliche to do it but I smiled a lot and so did my Dad. The culture of the pacific is incredibly enchanting but the staple food of cooked taro root otherwise known as poi is less enchanting. But oh how beautiful those taro fields are amongst the lower valleys of Hanalei Bay. These luau ceremonies were once held to honor kings and gods through stories and dance and carry so much history and beautiful significance.
We spent half a day with our cameras at the McBryde Gardens on the south coast of the island. We were lucky enough to see the largest collection of Hawaiian plants that exist. It seemed as though maybe we had missed the main blooming season but I was still in complete dragonfly and orchid heaven. These gardens were once a homesite to ancient Hawaiians, a gift to royals and is heavy in history and preservation. We even saw the rare tiger orchid in full bloom. It was YUGE! It looked like a round shrub. It was hanging casually above our heads in the mysterious shadows of the tree limb it was growing from. Pretty sweet sight.
In the mornings when I wake up and know the beautiful Poipu coast is waiting for me, I would pull back the louvered doors, breathe in and sigh it all out. There’s a special feeling in the morning. It’s quiet, except the roosters, but very peaceful. The ocean that my bedroom faces crashes along the rocky shore wall. I sit out on the terrace, have coffee, read, write and watch where the waves come in from both sides and meet. Sometimes I see a few brave surfers and at night the wall is lined with people, tourists, locals, all waiting for the sunset and relaxing in the moment after the day. I can actually see all of this amazingness from an oversized bathtub in my bedroom!
Some nights I would walk along the water at sunset and was able to have a completely quiet mind. I would sit on the sea wall and watch the waves and notice how the sun would reflect off the water and into my eyes. The colors in the sky change quickly from bright yellow to pink. I could sit there on that wall every night being mesmerized by those colors.
During the day I would swim or Dad and I would head out on some adventure or shop for pearls! I met the most incredibly lovely people by the pool one afternoon. I’m so grateful for all of my new friends. I was given a beautiful gift after 5 minutes of knowing one of my new friends. I was taken back by her sweetness and her mother’s and their touching and emotional story. We talk a lot about life and love and spirit and I know I will see them again. The rowdy group invited me with open arms to their pool party that day and I’m so happy I accepted their invitation. We broke some rules, we had some wine, we had a lot of laughs and we swam for hours in water as warm as a bathtub. It’s not always about waterfalls and beaches, sometimes it’s just about the people we meet on our travels that show us more beauty than any landscape could. The Hawaiians have a saying that I heard while there, “E aloha kekahi i kekahi”. It means to love one another. I’m beaming as I write this from all that love. I’m beaming because I had a clear scan. I’m beaming because maybe there is something to be said for the power of prayer. I’m beaming because my heart is decidedly open.
One day Dad and I drove up the coast and stopped at one of his favorite beaches, Aninni Beach. It was like something out of a picture book and for a few hours we soaked in the calm ocean water and laid in the warm sand. It’s really something how therapeutic the waters around Kauai feel. We went out to a fancy dinner one night and took a walk along the beachfront after. There were a lot of honeymooners and couples of course but there was one family down by the water with a small child that made me think of a moment I had in Turks and Caicos last year. I went back to my journal from then and this is what I had written that night…
while laying on the beach today, looking out at the ocean that is truly magical in its color and calmness, i saw the most beautiful moment between a man and his wife. it almost brought me to tears and i almost asked them if i could photograph them. she was sitting on the sand at the waters edge and her husband was swimming in front of her in the shallow water. he swam to her slowly, watching her pregnant belly. nothing could have broken his gaze. she watched him as he came closer and he placed the most gentle kiss on her belly full of life. i don’t think anyone else saw this moment. it is a moment that has stuck with me the entire day and brings me comfort and joy and sadness at the same time but i feel privileged to have been part of their moment, maybe it was just an ordinary moment for them but for me it just added to the miracle that is love and life…
As for my favorite parts of Kauai…I’d have to say getting to spend an extra 4 days on the North Shore of the island was a definite high of the trip but the helicopter flight was AWESOME! Who knew?! Me of all people would love it as much as I did. And the doors were off! To tell the truth I insisted the doors be off just in case I barfed. I learned right before the flight that barfing out the door would be dumb because I would most likely suffocate. Thankfully they provided very nice barf bags. In secret I was terrified but I knew it meant a lot to my Dad and I didn’t want to be a loser wimp. For those of you who had the privilege of watching my skydiving video from a few years ago know that it wasn’t my finest nor happiest moment. The first pic under this paragraph is me thinking I’m about to fall to my death and the second captures the pure joy I felt in the helicopter…even though my eyes are closed 😉 Between the wind and the canyons and the coast and the taro fields and the secret beaches and the soundtrack playing Coldplay’s Paradise, Moby and Iz’s Somewhere over the rainbow I was in total bliss.
And then I had to come home and you better believe there were tears. What an incredible place to make fantastic new memories with fantastic new people. I’m home now. I just found out my brain MRI was clean. I’m trying to get back to some sort of non Hawaii life. Back to yoga, back to writing and reading and loving my dog and friends and planning my next adventure because I CAN! Over the last year I have learned so much about myself and what I want in my life and what I have to live with literally. It’s easy to lose yourself in the loneliness that can be cancer and illness in general. Through people I have met who share my illness, to people I’ve met through traveling…I don’t lose myself anymore. We should all be smiling and living the life we love as much as is possible.
This is a pretty exciting time right now for me. That feels a little strange to say but I also feel the need for some rest. I have a trip to Panama next month and also an upcoming photo project. It’s a photo project of me and the different sides of my life with cancer, the light and darkness of my life. It has been something I’ve wanted to do since I was diagnosed almost 3 years ago. I don’t believe we see enough of the ‘real’ side of cancer. It’s also breast cancer awareness month which isn’t my favorite so I’m thinking of the photo project as my way of contributing and also honoring the Cancerful.
It seems I’m living another whole new life again. I get to start over, in a way. And maybe I won’t get to start over completely but it’s ok because right now I’m living in a no new cancer high and I’m not coming down. I mean for at least 60 days, when I have my next scan haha. I think about a passage from the Bible my new friend sent to me and how she told me it gave her father much comfort during his illness. I may not be sure about the existence of ‘God’ but I’m absolutely sure of something more. Faith is faith and love is love. It says,
Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.