Today is my Aloha-versary. Exactly one year ago, I walked off the plane and onto the tarmac with my then fiancé, now husband. I arrived on Hawaii Island with one backpack and three suitcases. Other than a few small boxes I had shipped over in the weeks prior to my move, it was everything I owned.
It’s been one year since I moved to Hawaii permanently, but my heart has known that I belonged here since first stepping onto that same tarmac in 2004.
I had another life before this simple, tropical one. I was married before, and by the standards of most, we were living the dream. We bought a house. Then we sold that and bought a bigger house. We spent the weekends shopping for decor to make sure our home looked like something from a Pottery Barn catalog before going out to dinner parties in homes that looked just like ours. We dined out for lunch and dinner several times a week. There were several expensive bikes in our garage. Stylish clothes filled our closets, and when they became out of style, we shopped for new ones. And we even got to vacation in Hawaii!
I should have been happy, but I wanted more than happy. I wanted to live a story worth telling. I wanted whatever it was I experienced every time I travelled to the Island of Hawaii, in the middle of the sea! There I bought fresh fruit from farmers markets, I hiked across lava rocks to watch the sun set into the thundering surf. I went to dinner still in my swimsuit, with my hair damp and salty from swimming across Kealakekua Bay, where I had encountered a pod of dolphins.
Everything I needed was in my suitcase. Every day I ventured out with a back pack and a dream, off to chase another adventure. I shouldn’t have been happy with so little. And I wasn’t.
I was in love with life!
And living that way is so much more sustainable than chasing a few fleeting moments of happiness found by living according to someone else’s standards. The more time I spent on the Big Island getting to know the locals and how they lived, the more I saw that living Aloha lined up with what mattered most to my heart.
No wonder I felt homesick every time I had to board that plane with that one suitcase, and return to that home full of belongings. And to a life that seemed to be driven by accumulating more of the same.
I visited Hawaii 15 times before actually making a commitment to move here. I also went through hell before realizing that this island’s pull on me was not fading.
In between those sacred visits to Hawaii, I suffered an injury that ultimately led to my retirement from triathlon. I watched my now ex-husband drift further and further from me, and eventually accepted the divorce he requested. And I lost my job of 11 years. The very job that funded my vacations to Hawaii. Now the only trips I was taking were to the unemployment office.
“What’s the worst that can happen?”
I once heard that anyone pursuing their heart’s dreams should ask “What’s the worst that can happen?” and realize that whatever the answer may be, it is inconsequential compared to the fate of being unfaithful to your own heart.
I never had to answer that question. I was living my version of “the worst” and it was the most trying, terrifying season of my life. I cried myself to sleep. I cried in the middle of grocery markets. I cried on my way home from interviews for jobs I knew I wouldn’t get.
But the tears were watering a seed of strength that was buried under all that pain. I finally got a job offer and moved from Upstate New York to the greater Boston area (New Hampshire) to work, and to start over at 40 years old.
The U-Haul full of belongings I brought with me was a fraction of what I had become accustomed to living with. I brought the essentials, along with my “Live Aloha” poster and my favorite painting of a Hawaiian coffee shack, and the hope that some day I would find a way back to the island that had my heart.
What I owned wasn’t much, but I was getting paid to write, and I was filling my free time with adventures. And more significantly, I was falling in love with my life!
One November morning, I was heading to the airport to fly to Dallas for a business trip. As I slung my backpack over my shoulder and rolled my suitcase out the front door, I felt a sense of freedom wash over me.
I wanted to live a story worth telling, and meet others with stories worth sharing. I wanted to harness the power of my words to shine a light on those stories, and with one suitcase and one backpack I was free to do just that!
Compared to my old life, I still didn’t have much. I had no TV. I rarely went shopping. I didn’t know many people in my new town, and I definitely didn’t get invited to dinner parties. But I knew who I was and that what brought me life could not be found on the shelf of a store. “The worst” had made me stronger, but first it had given me the freedom to be ME.
I was free to be more than happy.
I was in love with life and my heart was open. So when a man I knew of through friends in Hawaii sent me a message to say that he had been reading my blogs, stating that “They are encouraging, inspiring and reflect your emotions,” I was open. I kept reading.
“I don’t know you, but through your words I feel in a sense I do. Keep writing and I’ll keep reading.”
Over the next few months, our conversations got deeper. I knew I loved him before I met him. I knew it the day he suggested in earnest that he move to the Boston area to be near me. But I saw in this man the same sincere love for Hawaii that had gripped me for years.
“What’s the worst that can happen?” I asked. I had already lived through “the worst” so the answer didn’t daunt me. Hardship gave me both the clarity and courage I needed to make the big move to the Big Island. So, I saved money, made arrangements to work remotely, sold what I could, gave away what I couldn’t and bought a one-way plane ticket to Kailua-Kona. I boarded that plane with three suitcases and one backpack…
And it was more than enough to live a story worth telling!