Sea Changes

Recently a friend pointed out that two of the major power spots for my work are the diametrically opposite islands of Ireland and Hawaii. I don’t know if there is deep inner meaning in this, but it does remind me that as a child, I had a passion for stories about far away islands where people were recognized for who they really are, their essential, radiant nature – no matter how obscured that might be. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Peter Pan, and The Island of Blue Dolphins, for instance. Usually there is a wise animal involved, like Aslan in the Dawn Treader or Nana in Peter Pan. Always they had to go through some kind of initiation: a fierce confrontation with their own defenses in which they were tossed and tempted by life until they came out radiant and humbled and ever more true to the visionary within. Most of these people were children, because – almost always – children are the only ones with the willingness to throw themselves unabashedly into mystery and possibility and be changed and reborn in the process.

Though my memory for details is not great (remembering poems is very different than remembering details!) I do recall vowing, as I hid under the covers with a flashlight and a book into the wee hours, that when I grew up I would not be like the adults who seemed to lose their magical nature to a deadness of insurance payments, grocery lists and punching a time clock. I promised myself that I would not betray this sense of inner adventure, this vision of human possibility, or the “fearless face to face awareness of now naked life”* that the children in those stories always discovered through their ordeal.

Annually, in the summer, I migrate to Ireland these days. There I am not quite surrounded by dolphins or mythical lions, but – dare I say it? – even better, circles of truly magical human beings. This is far beyond my childhood dreams because it is a communion that is happening between real people in a real world that includes the grit of the “human catastrophe” so close to the grace of the ineffable; the grist of the unpaid mortgage or lost job so close to the sheer beauty of being. Sometimes the difference between them disappears.

When I got to college, the worlds of Narnia and Neverland were joined by Prospero’s magical island in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Those who were shipwrecked on that Isle were brought face to face with themselves, whether they liked it or not. A “sea-change” was foisted upon them by the wise and powerful Prospero.

Years ago, I went to see Julie Taymor’s new movie of The Tempest. (She has Helen Mirren playing a female Prospera!). And, guess what? It was shot almost entirely on the Big Island of Hawaii, in the wild, rough lava fields and tangled Chrismas Berry forests that I have lived in, and so deeply love.

*This is a phrase from one of my favorite poems, “Terra Incognita” by D. H. Lawrence