When I was young my aunt lived on Maui. We'd fly from New Jersey to visit. I remember the trip when I was about ten. My father wore corduroy OP shorts, and my mother wore elegant sarongs that she would tie up around her neck. Skinny like a grasshopper, my brother was impish, refusing to smile for photographs. We stayed in a beach condo softened by bunches of magenta bougainvillea and a tumble of green lawn. There was a pool with a black iron gate around it, and on the other side of the bars was the beach and then the Pacific ocean.
We spent long mornings at the beach, mostly in the water. Swimming was like plunging into a liquid jewel, the water clear and faceted and so lovely it was hard to take your eyes off of it. I stared at my toes in the sand, so many feet down, shimmering in aqua water. Waves stretched into clear tumbling curves, and when the timing was right I would ride the frothy edge to shore.
When we got hungry, we'd walk to a local beach restaurant that served the best onion rings. Imagine, the crust was made of crushed up potato chips. Salty and crunchy on the outside, a little bit sweet and mushy on the inside. I'd have a banana smoothie with them. This was before any kid from New Jersey (where we lived at the time) knew what a smoothie was. The adults drank Mai Tais, which they renamed Bye Byes because they were so strong.
Last week I had the chance to step onto that same beach, in front of the black iron gate, where those very same condos still stand. The restaurant is gone and there were a few more people on the beach, but everything else was just the same.
Squishing my feet in the sand, I felt a faint tickle in my chest, a fizz like tiny champagne bubbles popping, the cellular memory of joy rising to awareness. That sensation mingling with the current moment led to a sense that happiness could be layered generation after generation, and that to have born to a line of people who knew how to be happy and anchored that feeling to a place that would outlast all of us, that this was a blessing of unknown proportions. Maybe this is why, for the past few years, without a plan or without reason, I have been on a series of return trips, revisiting he places where my growing up family taught me how to plant seeds of joy, so that those same seeds can be sown in the next generation. I do not know what collaboration of fate has offered me the privilege to pass on this learning, but I do know that it is no small thing to know how to be happy, to have learned how to dance with the world and how to love the goodness of every sparkling jewel at your feet.