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Hawaii was beautiful

…inspiring

…magnificent

…relaxing

…humid

…hot

…magical

…and all sorts of words I cannot say.

There’s something about the warm ocean at night, under a moon bright enough to swim by, that triggers a feeling of delicious possibility, of unsung things too close to a heart to be spoken aloud. Hawaii whispered of secrets, promises, and nostalgia, all wrapped into one.

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At least, that’s a bit of what Hawaii was like for me.

It’s been a few weeks since I returned, and in all this time, I couldn’t think of how to say anything at all about my trip that would be anything other than a complete cliché, overworked by the many people before me who have tried to capture something original in their words.

So, I figure, I might as well give up that noble endeavor, and just admit that I loved my brief time there, for all the reasons you’ve heard before, and all the adjectives I’ve offered above.

I’ll tell you, instead, why my six days in Hawaii this summer were so very important to me.

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Last year, when I moved to California, I promised myself that I would take advantage of the opportunity to explore the west coast and points beyond. I dreamed of Asia and Australia. Hawaii, I’ll admit, I took for granted, assuming that all good Californians frequently hopped flights to the sweet Pacific outpost of these United States. No problem, I thought to myself. I’ll probably be hiking volcanoes before the end of October.

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That, of course, didn’t happen. In fact, it was a full 11 months before I went to Hawaii – not on the trip I’d fantasized about, but instead on the one that I could make happen: I cashed in airline miles and went off to visit a good friend who’d just moved to Honolulu.

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No, I didn’t make it to Kauai, or Maui, or the Big Island, or to that island – what’s its name? – that even locals seem to forget exists. I stayed on O’ahu, where I’d visited once before, touring the North Shore one day and venturing to Kailua at another point for kayaking, hiking, and breakfast. In that way, I know I didn’t experience the “best” that Hawaii has to offer; my visit was brief, I didn’t island-hop, and I didn’t research anything at all ahead of time.

Yet that is precisely why Hawaii has become, to me, symbolic of something much more important.

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Lately, my best friends and I have talked a lot about this phase of life that we’re in, which feels like a different version of growing up than we’ve ever experienced. We have made decisions that have irrevocably altered our lives, as decisions do, but at our age, the possibility of making radically different decisions is dwindling. We are responsible for more, and so – perhaps – we are less wild. Yes, yes, there are always options, and I hope to never lose sight of that, but in my late 30s, I realize that there are adventurous choices I would have made 20 or even 10 years ago (by the way, when did I get so old that I have vivid memories of 20 years ago?) that I’m simply not going to make anymore.

As a consequence of experience, previous exploration, and practicality, some of those carefree days, it seems, are gone, which is hard for me to admit. For the most part, that’s a good thing: do I really want to move to a farm in the middle of nowhere, where I know no one, without plans or a permanent address to welcome me home, as I did when I was 23? (Well, sort of. I will always want to do that, truth be told. Bad example.)

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I am extremely grateful for my life as it now looks, yet I sometimes struggle with the quick passing of time, and the awareness of choices that are no longer possibilities. I think of things I haven’t yet done, and it scares me. As I get older, I sometimes feel pinned in by the responsibilities of the life I’ve chosen.

Maybe you know what I mean, if you’re in a similar moment of life. There’s value in exchanging a measure of spontaneity for a dose of predictability. But does being predictable, or stable, or responsible mean…boring? Does it mean that there is not room for packing up and simply going, following whatever asinine whim catches my fancy?

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When I realized, in July, that I hadn’t yet made it to Hawaii though the anniversary of life in California was speeding towards me, I panicked. I dithered. I looked at tickets. I looked at my calendar. I thought about work. I thought about money. I hunched over my computer and looked at flights, at hotels, at rental cars. I tried to make myself wait until the fall, thinking of money I could save, plans I could make, islands I could visit. I thought about my bank account and my responsibilities and my reasons for not going…

And then I bought the goddamned tickets anyway. In so doing, I remembered that though I am in my late 30s, and responsible, and not rich, and aware of the exchanges and the sacrifices that come with all sorts of things, I am also fully capable of making things happen for myself. Most importantly, I am capable of taking my dreams and turning them into reality.

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So, Hawaii was everything that you have either heard about or experienced. It was amazing, and I hope to return soon, properly exploring all the various islands. But although my adoration of Hawaii is true, and full, I am so moved by my recent visit not because of the beauty of O’ahu or the welcoming spirit of its residents, both of which I experienced in droves.

Instead, it’s because I remembered that there’s a side of me, no matter how old I get or how responsible I become, or how many tasks are on my checklist or how many checklists I even need to make, that feels most alive when I experience life without a plan, without prior knowledge, without an expectation of how things should happen or – perhaps most importantly – without a definition of who I should be.

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In the midst of my everyday life, I am guilty of losing perspective on those things that make me feel young, and wild, in the most wonderful ways. This spontaneous trip helped me remember that even though I can be someone who can act without prudence, the lucky and tricky truth is that I’m still an adult. I am a grown-ass woman who can do what I want. It sure is nice to feel confident that I will take care of any consequences that come.

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So, Hawaii was: beautiful, relaxing, full of mai tais and cheesy tiki bars that I adored. But more importantly, Hawaii was spontaneity realized, reminding me that – whether I’m on an island, or in front of my desk at work – I carry with me all the nuanced bits of personality and life that make me who I am, and that make me capable of momentarily transforming into someone slightly different. Adventurous, responsible, ridiculous, serious, and lucky beyond any measure that I know: Hawaii reminded me that I can be all those things, at once, without explanation.

For all of the state’s beauty, the most important part of Hawaii was that it gave me back a sense of myself that I sometimes misplace. It gave me a moment of feeling carefree, and – delightfully – responsibly irresponsible, all in six sweet days.

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