Past Illusions and the Hope of Paradise
Many of us are familiar with the pain of realizing that a cherished childhood memory is a happier experience in retrospect than it was in reality. What do we do when our illusions are shattered? Do we let it harden our hearts against new hopes and dreams, or do we continue to dream and wonder and explore? Here, Becky Allender writes about what the loss of her parents helped her learn about the reality of past dreams and the future hope of paradise. This post originally appeared on redtentliving.com.
The sun was soon to rise and I was groggy from yesterday’s travel. I crept past my snoring mother-in-law and opened the sliding door to the hotel’s high-rise lanai in the Waikiki city jungle. I was filled with guilt and disappointment, and I called home knowing my dad would answer the phone. “Dad, hi, I wish you were here and not Dan’s mom. I wanted you and Mom to come with us but knew that wouldn’t be possible. Dad, the sun is beginning to rise. I miss you.”
I can remember his meditative pause and hear him in a far-away remembering voice say, “Yes, we had good times in Hawaii.” I reminisced with him about the trip we took in 1966 and then asked him, “Dad, how many times did you go to Hawaii?” Trying to justify watching the sun’s glow in a place we lovingly recalled with awe as his life was swiftly fading to an end.
That long-ago Christmas vacation was brought back to life over and over again in my parents’ home with their Hawaiian albums on the stereo’s indoor and outdoor speakers. Monkey pod bowls, straw hats, countless classic flowered shirts, dresses and Mai Tai’s brought them back to golden sunshine and good times. That trip seared deep in my heart the notion of “family joy in paradise.” It was magical thinking for a fourteen-year-old daughter wanting her parents to be happy. I clung to it ferociously.
I crept back into the hotel room and awakened Dan’s mother so we could travel to a different part of the island. For the next nine days, Dan’s mother was miserable with every activity we did. Her only happy moment was when a man in the Marriott laundry facility spoke to her. In her mind he was flirting with her. My being kind to her took the concentration of a tightrope walker over Niagara Falls, and I would have fallen to my death a thousand times if I had actually been on that tightrope.
It wasn’t long after returning from that trip that my father spent his final nineteen days in a Hospice Care facility, refusing food and water after he said no to three physicians who claimed they could easily “save” him. Thirteen months later we buried my mother on Mother’s Day. After her funeral we went to my parents’ home, and my sister and brother and I decided to get out the Da-Lite screen and slide projector and view old family slides. I don’t think I had done that since high school.
In the surreal state of an unexpected funeral we sat in the living room with our daughter’s new fiancé, and I unashamedly indulged my young heart in viewing the youthfulness of my parents who were now gone. It was odd to not care about boring my children. I sat mesmerized on a couch that I had sat on for hundreds of days and holidays gone by.
When we got to the carousel of our Hawaii trip, I was incredulous when I saw my dull and petulant expressions. I spoke out loud and said, “What was wrong with me? I don’t know why I look so unhappy?” My sister fiercely spoke, “Don’t you remember how they fought the entire trip? They were miserable and couldn’t get along for an hour without arguing.” I couldn’t speak—that is not at all what I had remembered and had clung to for all of these years. In a few sentences, the illusion of a happy family in Hawaii was shattered.
Illusions need to die; dreams are to be resurrected from the ashes of disillusionment. Too often the loss of illusions simply turns our heart hard, but it is the courageous outworking of redemption to yearn for dreams to be fulfilled.
Last winter we vacationed with friends in Hawaii. Walking a secluded beach known mostly to locals, I let myself imagine taking our whole family to Hawaii for the following Christmas. We budgeted, scrimped, and saved. We used frequent flyer miles and I did the very thing I never do: arrange a vacation for our whole family. I found a house to rent, and flights for eleven of us were booked. For ten months our whole family kept saying to one another, “I can’t wait until Hawaii.”
It had been a good, but at times, a hard year for all of us. In the midst of our struggles it seemed every time we got together or talked on the phone someone would say, “I can’t wait until Hawaii.” It is easy to ruin a trip by expecting too much out of it. It is equally easy to diminish the importance of an experience because we fear expecting too much out of it.
I had not expected the anticipation to be so great, and I worried about relational tensions, travel frustrations, or that renting the wrong house might darken our time. It didn’t.
Dan and I took walks every day to pray for each person in our family and for the goodness of our time together. On one of the walks we went farther than we had ever gone and ended up in an area that looked like the African savannah. We walked along the coast, high above the beach, and then we saw the outline of a large multi-level white building ahead.
I wondered if it was the Mauna Kea. That was the resort where we drove up in our rental station wagon, and my dad asked for valet parking. My mom got out of the car when her door was opened, and she looked regal and beautiful like Audrey Hepburn.
I looked down at the Mauna Kea, and in my mind I saw a fourteen-year-old girl walking into the world’s most expensive hotel (at the time). We weren’t staying at the hotel, instead, my father scammed to get us to their beach dressed in our beach cover-ups through the lobby and down countless grand stairways to paradise. I hated being an imposter, but we didn’t get caught and it was one of the few idyllic afternoons of our trip. How could I know that one day, fifty years later, so many of my dreams would come true?
What if eternity is the fulfillment of all the dreams we never knew we held, let alone the consummation of all the dreams that have only partially come to be? One day we will know. One day…