August 10, 2012 was the seventh anniversary of my arrival on Maui, and it was marked with a deep sense of relief. I’m still here.
Not everyone stays. I was first warned about the transient nature of Maui within a week of my arrival. A wise friend who has lived here for over thirty years told me that people who come to Maui tend to stay only so long.
“They leave after six months, one year, or two years” she said, “and if they make it that long, they usually stay until five years have passed. They leave for all sorts of reasons. Their mother gets sick, or they fall in love, or move back to the mainland for a job. Those who make it past five years usually leave by seven. And those who are still living here after seven years? They usually stay for life. Maui is their true home. Even if they have to leave for some reason, they find a way to come back.”
The truth of this has been revealed over and over in the last few years. I’ve seen dear friends leave at exactly those intervals. And apparently, I’ve been carrying some tension around inside, waiting to see if I would still love living here after my seventh year.
That tension eased just a little a couple of months ago, when I saw a t-shirt that said “PALE ALE” on it. As I sounded out the words — “pah-leh ah-leh” — I searched my memory. Where was this place, this Pale Ale? I had never heard of it. Was it on the Big Island?
Later that night, still bothered, I googled “Pale Ale.” As millions of results about beer showed up, I started to giggle.
I had read pale ale as if it were a Hawaiian word. When you start reading common phrases in a new language, it marks a turning point in your acculturation.
So, Maui is my home, it seems – which is what I have suspected since I first stepped off the plane in Honolulu seven years ago.
I moved to Maui without knowing why I was coming. I didn’t know anyone, had never been to Hawaii (let alone Maui), and had no idea why I was being so strongly called to this island. I had sold everything I owned and bought a one way ticket. As my plane started its descent into Honolulu, I kept thinking “soon I will know why I am here.”
My answer came minutes later, in the space of an inhalation. As I left the gate area, my little red carryon trailing obediently behind me, I took my first in-breath, and tasted Hawaii’s sweet, fresh air. At that moment all of the fear and doubt that had accompanied my “crazy” decision to leave everything behind me fled. That one taste told me I had come home. Home.
So when a reader named Karla commented on a recent post with the following …
We’re strongly considering a move to Maui within 2 years or less from the Seattle Area. Tell me, what was the hardest part of moving from the mainland for you and how easy was it to assimilate yourself into island living, aka, the dreaded island-fever? We’d love to hear your input in a move.
Thanks! (love your blogs)
… I felt I might be finally, finally somewhat qualified to begin to answer it.
You are right to wonder about assimilation and island fever, Karla, and I will address those in separate blog posts. But I’m stuck on the first question: what was the hardest part?
For me, it was the months leading up to the move itself. It was dealing with the expression of shock and distress on the faces of my friends and family when I told them what I was doing. More than one thought I was not-just-a-little, going-off-the-deep-end crazy.
Where was I going to live?
I had no idea. No one on Maui would rent me a place before I arrived. I must have spoken to dozens of people – all of whom told me I sounded like a really nice person, but I would need to be on island before they would let me sign a lease.
(After seven years, I can understand this. I have been disappointed by no less than three tenants who swore they were coming, but ended up not able to for various reasons. Maui is a tough place to get to.)
What would I do for a job?
Well, I had always made my way, no matter where I lived. I have a varied background – and I can write. I’ll be fine, I said, even if I end up waiting tables again.
Who did I know there?
No one. But I make friends. I’m not worried about that.
Won’t you miss your family?
Not any more than I already do.
The pressure was really intense. Sometimes I had to reassure myself that I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t the first person to free themselves from their earthly possessions. I wasn’t the first to go on an adventure. And for heaven’s sakes: the planes go both ways. If it was really terrible, I’d be able to come back.
Not all of my friends, and not all of my family felt I was making a mistake. Some supported me completely, and celebrated me, and helped me beyond measure. I still send prayers of thanks, everyday, for their support.
Months and months later, I realized that many of the same people who had been concerned for my welfare – and put such pressure on me not to go – were no longer interested in talking to me. Missed calls, emails that went unanswered. When I talked about this to people who live on Maui, some nodded knowingly.
“You did what you wanted, even though it was scary,” my friend J__ said.
“And now you live on f$#(in’ Maui. You live in the most beautiful place in the world. And you have a life here. You found your love, someone lent you a Mercedes as soon as you got here, you have a home, you have a job, you have friends. If any of those people ever struggle with feeling like they haven’t lived a full life – if they have a sneaking suspicion that they’ve taken the coward’s way out and backed away from what they really want – you’re proving them right. At this point, you just represent their own failure to live the life they want to. This is the price you pay for leaving your comfort zone. If you have family and friends who like the comfort zone, they don’t come with you. I wouldn’t expect them to stick around.”
That was the hardest part. Letting go of friendships that meant a lot to me. It made me cry. It made me feel a little lonely. And it made me stronger. I had to make a real choice. And I realized: I DO choose Maui. It is my right to choose where to live, and I exercise it.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote about our inalienable right to “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence, he didn’t mean that we have the right to just be happy, and he wasn’t talking about things. In the eighteenth century, the word “pursuit” was used differently than it is today. Today it means something like “chase.” It did then, too, but it was more commonly used as a noun, and the meaning was more like what we mean by “career.” Lawyers said “my pursuit is the law.” Doctors said “I pursue medicine.”
Jefferson articulated our right to make our own happiness our career. We have the right to be happy – not just in the moment, but in our life. We have, in other words, the right to live how we want to live, in a way that makes us joyful. This is a lovely idea, and I am forever proud to live it. Moving to Maui did not make me happy. It made me anxious and worried. I did it because I felt like I had to – not because I was chasing some dream of happiness. I knew I had to be here. And ultimately, yes, it has made me very, very happy.
So, Karla, if you and your husband want to move to Maui – if it’s part of your pursuit of happiness – than by all means, do so. And don’t worry too much about any of it. I have suffered no island fever, ever. There have been times when I’ve craved bagels, museums, and hearing dozens of languages spoken at once (from my NYC days). I’ve missed driving 100 miles an hour on straight highways through mountains and valleys (from my Montana days). I’ve missed wearing a sweater in chilly air, and pulling on a pair of boots. I’ve found these things are cured by friends FedExing bagels to me, weeklong trips to the mainland, and going up to Haleakala crater for a chilly morning sunrise.
There’s a saying that “Maui either embraces you or turns you away.” If you move to Maui and small miracles start happening to make your life easier, you’re likely in the first category.
For example, the day after I landed, I met James, and I can’t say it was love at first sight. It was more like we both woke up, immediately, and realized we’d always been married. Like, for centuries. Later that night he told me the small dolphin ring I wore on my pinkie was freaking him out. He’d had a recurring dream since childhood about walking down the beach, holding hands with his wife. He could never see her face, but he had her hands and ring memorized. The ring I was wearing that night – which I had worn since I was twelve – was the exact ring he had seen on his wife’s hand in his dreams, over and over. Later that week when I needed to decide whether to extend my car rental or not, James’ friend offered to let me drive his cherry red Mercedes sedan – a 1978 classic in mint condition – while he was off island for two months.
If you’re in the second category, things won’t go so well. One family James knew worked for years to move to Maui. They finally got a job lined up, bought a house, packed up their belongings, shipped the containers over. The shippers hit a snafu, and the containers were delayed, and then again, and then again. Finally, a full six months after their arrival, their containers got to Maui. The day they were scheduled to arrive, the family went to the beach. When they got back, the containers were parked in the street, but their home was a burned out shell. A fire had taken the entire house down while they snorkeled. They called the shipper back, waited for them to pick up the containers, and booked their tickets back to Colorado for the following day. The signs had been there since they arrived: this is not the place for you.
Maui is a very special place, and everyone who visits benefits from its nearly magical properties. But moving here is a very different experience from visiting. And, honestly? You won’t know until you are here, settling in, what the hardest part is for you.
And you might not care one whit. Because you get to live on Maui. And on Maui, we live the good life. We’re spoiled, and we know it.
I’d love to hear from others who have moved to Maui about their experiences. Any advice for Karla? Any other questions about moving to Maui?