Herald Journal Columns
Sept. 12, 2005, Herald Journal

Paradise lost, and regained

By LIZ HELLMANN

Some relatives of mine recently moved to the island paradise of Hawaii.

Here I am, stuck in Minnesota, venturing outside in the summer, when it is finally warm enough, only to spend many sweaty and frustrating hours fighting off our state bird, the mosquito.

In the winter, I find myself fending off snowdrifts and scraping ice off my car every morning because, for some reason, my parents think their cars should go in the garage.

Granted, my relatives have paid their dues living in some other not-so-hospitable places, an occupational hazard of theirs.

But Hawaii is the plushest of the plush, complete with beautiful ocean views, exotic flowers and animals, intriguing mountain terrain, and long, sandy beaches.

People pay a lot of money just to spend a few days vacationing in this vast, tranquil oasis of rejuvenation.

Imagine the wonderful life of living there day in and day out.

But like a watering hole visible in the distance to a weary desert traveler, these ideas are merely a mirage, that seem so real, yet disappear as you get closer.

OK, so maybe it’s not that dramatic. However, my relatives are beginning to see that living in Hawaii has its pros and cons.

For example, there is a reason people vacation in Hawaii for a week. A week is all they can afford of the island paradise.

Houses are unspeakably expensive, easily five times what houses cost in the good old Midwest.

For this reason, my relatives decided to rent, although renting is not exactly easy on the pocketbook, either.

It also seems you do not get what you pay for, because rental units are not kept up extremely well. It’s like the people who live in them don’t care what happens, because it’s not their property. (I know this concept is not shocking, but I never could understand why people would destroy things just because it was “no skin off their back.”)

I wouldn’t classify my relatives as bums; in fact, they work quite hard. But it seems you need to be the king of a small country to afford a nice place in Hawaii.

(Although one would wonder, what kind of king would abandon his country to live somewhere else?)

Sure, the climate is nice. The ocean is still there. And, so far, I don’t think you have to pay to look at it, at least not directly.

But there is a price to pay in paradise. This price comes in the form of rent, mortgages, and sanity, which can be compromised by the conditions.

For example, in their rental unit, the stove is scratched and the electric coils are bent. The refrigerator seems to have a case of dyslexia, because the doors always feel hot (but the contents have managed to stay cool, so far).

Duct tape lines the inside of the fridge, and the lights and exhaust fan above the stove do not work.

Before it was replaced, by my relatives, the garbage disposal was rusted.

The carpet is lovely, save the dots of bleach left by an inexperienced carpet cleaner.

The walls were unpainted, but now, thanks to the free labor of my relatives, are almost all redone.

All three toilets used to have to be shut off when not in use, because they leaked water, another project for my handy relatives, who again doled out free labor.

It seems this is a classic case of “life is always greener on the other side.”

Or is it?

True, things are perhaps a little bumpier than expected. But when changes occur, unexpected bumps are inevitable.

Even with all the complications, I’d be willing to bet my relatives are happier than they were a year ago.

Most of us spend our whole life working towards a goal, trying to achieve a dream.

The closer you get, the more you realize life isn’t lived in dreams, and we never do get to escape reality, even in paradise.

When paradise doesn’t end up to be perfect, it’s easy to see what went wrong.

But if life was perfect, we’d have no reason to dream. And dreaming is the only way to keep paradise alive, even if we never get there, ourselves.

But then again, I don’t have to live with duct tape on my fridge.