Four words will strike jealousy in anyone: “I went to Hawaii.” Yes, my spring break was spent blissfully soaking in the sun and the hang-loose atmosphere of the spectacular island of Oahu. Among the pleasant sounds of the ocean waves, the chirping birds, and the tourists’ laughter, was a sound most unwelcome: the noise of complaining. Yes, complaining!
Somehow, while relaxing on a tropical island that enjoyed warm weather and sunlight, while swimming and para-sailing and kayaking and snorkeling and climbing a mountain and sightseeing, my twelve-year-old stepsister found reason to complain. “My cell phone doesn’t have service… I’m tired of walking… There’s nothing fun to do… It’s too hot… The salt water tastes gross… I’m bored.”
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
Within the first hour of being on Oahu and enduring her complaints about phone service, I gave myself a challenge to not only have the time of my life in Hawaii, but to be Katie’s opposite. I vowed to deeply appreciate each and every thing I encountered, to not utter one word of complaint, and to have the outlook on life that Katie never seems to: a positive one.
The vivid colors of the island are ingrained in my mind: the deep oranges and reds of the North Shore sunset, the spectacular shades of ocean blue as seen from the top of Diamondhead Mountain, and the neon colors of the ubiquitous hibiscus flowers. Evidences of a healthy economy were everywhere. Enormous buildings and hotels housed paying tourists while stores sold overpriced goods. Amongst the sea of smiles, however, were those whose sole possessions were contained in a shopping cart.
My eyes examined the crowd closer and noticed one, two, three more of the homeless. A man dressed in rags sat on the sidewalk with a sign that read “Hungry. That’s all,” with his eyes pleading for an altruistic person to donate a meager meal. I came to the realization that my idea of Hawaii was a facade. Sure, the island was everything I dreamed it would be: endless sun, blue ocean water, surfing, parasailing…but it was more than that. The island’s positive attributes merely masked its flaws.
I cringed as countless wealthy, happy people glanced at the hungry man’s cardboard sign and walked on. I, along with my family members, vowed to be different. When we saw a man counting his coins to see how much of a McDonald’s meal he could afford, we gave him some spare money. The man’s gratitude overwhelmed us.
Our last day in Hawaii, we struggled to pack everything back into our overflowing suitcases. We knew the refrigerator’s contents would not be able to come home with us. We gathered the food and separated it into individual bags, and off we went. Along the beach and along the streets, we gave away what we did not need. A sleeping homeless man would now wake up with a meal beside him. The immense gratitude seen on their faces was comparable to the rush of exhilaration I felt while parasailing eight hundred feet above the water. A perfect way to end a perfect trip.
I learned from so many people during that week. I learned from my stepsister, Katie, that complaining ruins even the best opportunity. I learned from the homeless to be grateful for whatever I have. Most of all, however, I learned from the hundreds of people that passed by the hungry man that I need to step beyond my comfort zone, search beyond the facade of happiness to see the hidden people who are hurting, and do whatever is in my power to help.
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