“Living the Dream” is a phrase commonly used here in the Cook Islands. To me, it’s a foretaste of Paradise. We are surrounded by the beauty of turquoise lagoons, verdant hills, soaring mountains, abundant flowers, graceful palms and people in the varied colors of the Creator’s garden. There is beauty in island music, as in the soaring harmonies one hears in church when people “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” (Psalm 100) There are lilting traditional songs accompanied by ukuleles. There is beauty in dance, drumming, costumes, carving, embroidery and other arts.
There is abundant Joyfulness seasoned with humor. There are shrieks, giggles and bubbles of laughter when two or more islanders are together. At recent youth Rugby games, I sat beside two mamas, crocheting rapidly while screaming out directions to the players and laughing uproariously. Beauty and Joyfulness — two virtues that nurture and heal the soul. As well as laughter, there are heaps of hugs and kisses. Everyone needs loving touch. Respected family therapist, Virginia Satir, said, “We need four hugs a day for survival, eight for maintenance, and twelve hugs a day for growth.”
The pace of life is gentle, particularly in the outer Cook Islands, such as Aitutaki. As I walked toward a tourist recently, he stopped to ask me a question. He said, “You’re a local, so tell me…”
“How did you know?” I asked him.
“The way you move. If you were any more relaxed, you’d be horizontal,” he said with a laugh. I was wearing a flower behind my ear and a pareu blouse, but still, I like his explanation best.
A virtue that touches me is the wonder Island children find in the simple pleasures of sea and shore. Walking the beach with my three island grandchildren, they shout out, “Look, Mama, another Etu Moana! (Star Fish)” A tiny hermit crab or a super big one evokes the same enthusiasm. The children are content and happy with a stick, drawing hopscotch squares, love notes, and “jail”, which is a circle rapidly drawn around me so I can’t move, until I hit the “magic button” which they draw at a distance. I take aim with my flip flop, and whenever I miss, they find it hilarious. We draw lines in the sand for hermit crab races. My granddaughter first learned to read from words I wrote in the sand. She was playing hopscotch, and I wrote “hop, pop, top, mop”. She sounded them out and then ran home to share the news. When the children spook a flounder while paddling in the shallows, there are shrieks of delight as it hoovers off. We often notice schools of small silver fish leaping in an arc over the water to escape a predator. Going to different beaches is a special treat. First we gather and bag man-made rubbish along the beach, then they gather shells, look for crabs in the rocks, climbing over the old makatea (petrified coral rock). Tiny baby eels and fish dart around in tide pool nurseries, and when an adult eel is spotted, excited screams fill the air. When the full moon rises, we watch waves crashing on the reef. Once, at the beach on my own, I saw a pod of whales swimming by and breaching. I hope to share that wonder with the children this whale season.
Last night, as we swam in the lagoon together, they celebrated small visits and events of beauty. The clouds were illumined with gold and pink. Four enormous frigate birds, called storm birds by the locals, soared overhead, foretelling rain, which sure enough came this morning. A mother heron and her offspring flew just over our heads. Over and over, schools of small silver fish leapt in an arc close by, evading a predator. My oldest grandson had taken off his shirt and dropped it in the water. We couldn’t find it anywhere we swam. So, I introduced the children to St. Anthony, patron saint of lost things. I said a prayer to him aloud, and suddenly my granddaughter shouted out that she had found the shirt. The boys’ eyes were big and round. The 12 year old said, “Mama, how do you know such things?”
I love seeing them smitten by beauty and simple discoveries at the beach rather than constantly craving electronic entertainment. When my six year old granddaughter visited New Zealand, she said it was “boring”, despite shopping the malls, using a tablet, and attending parties. She missed the simple rhythms of island life. All of us blessed to visit or live here can partake in the beauty of living the dream.
Have you ever considered that wherever you live, in a city, suburb, or a rural area, there is beauty and delight waiting outside your door? Nurture yourself with beauty by tapping the potential for wonder right in your own back yard. Be a tourist or better yet, a pilgrim in your own town. Break through your normal routine, step aside from your work ethic to give yourself an experience of awe and wonder. A city skyline at sunset, a stroll through a park, a visit to an art gallery, a picnic in the country, finding a place to view the stars, will help you to live the dream, wherever you are.