On our honeymoon, Tim and I scooted around Oahu on mopeds. One day after snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, we stopped at Sandy Beach. First time visitors that we were, we naively decided it would be fun to jump the waves. Moments after walking into the surf we were immediately pounded. It was a “taken-down-rolled-over-and-over-with-your-face-in-the-sand-will-I-ever-catch-my-breath-again?” kind of pounding.
This was not any wave I’d experienced growing up vacationing in Florida. This was a whole new beast of raw power. Crawling out of the water gasping for breath, the locals informed us this was not a beach for haoles. “Watch, but don’t you dare get back in”, was the warning they gave us that August day. We were both overwhelmed by the experience, so we listened. In all our trips back to Hawaii, we’ve never gotten back in the water at Sandy Beach or at the North Shore.
For the most part, tourists don’t have the time it takes in a new environment to dominate the conditions. Wisely so, visitors let the conditions dictate and limit behavior. Tourists stay on wide, open paths that are clearly marked and easily identified. Safe, rather than sorry; watch, but don’t touch. Tourists come and go, reaping the easy benefits of a foreign experience because they don’t have the time to develop the skills it takes to dominate the new territory.
While that’s a fine philosophy for vacationers, it doesn’t ring true for someone who lives in Hawaii. Residents are different. Those who live in the land get to know the territory and in doing so, they get conditioned to the environment. When you live somewhere you journey through the narrow paths and know the hidden secrets. You push the limits, pick up different skills, and stretch into the new space. Residents know you can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.
This past week I’ve been pounded and rolled by a proverbial wave in an environment I am called to occupy. I’ve also watched my daughter experience a similar situation with a skill I firmly believe she is likewise supposed to dominate. Separately, yet simultaneously, we’ve both been rolled under by a wave that has shoved our faces in the sand and threatened to steal our next breath. Yet in each of these spaces, we are both called to be occupiers.
The poundings are going to come; you can’t learn something new without the necessary conditioning. It’s how you respond when you are taken down that determines if you are a visitor or a resident. Will you shake it off, spit the sand out of your mouth and climb back in? Or, will you get back on your moped and follow the wide path?
As for me, I’m wiping off my eyes, spitting out the sand, and heading back into the pounding waves. I won’t be haole for long, because I’ve been called to occupy. It’s time to learn to surf.