Sunday, June 2, 2013

You could be living in someone else's paradise

While writing up a hike report for the launch of the new website D has been working on lately (, I was reminded of our honeymoon, since that's when the particular hike took place.

Personally, I think we spent a week in paradise. No, I wasn't laying on a tropical island beach sipping on pina coladas, and it may not be other people's idea of paradise, but there was a part of me that wishes I could just stay there forever.

We stayed in the little town of Stonehaven, on the Scottish coast. It is a small but robust town, with plenty of local shops, sandwich shops with real French bread, restaurants that serve delicious local seafood, including real Scottish fish 'n chips - a bit of nostalgia from my childhood. The town is bordered by a small harbor with several piers and boardwalks, and lots of boats. About a two-mile walk down the coast is the gorgeous ruins of Dunnottar Castle, surrounded by cliffs and breathtaking views.

Down the coast in the other direction is another walking trail that leads to the ruins of an old church.

There is also a woodland walking trail nearby, as well as a train station to allow easy travel to other parts of the country. History, nature, beauty, and culture (not to mention Scottish accents!), all contained in a tiny town surrounded by pasture lands that produce locally sourced meat and dairy products. In a word: paradise.

Thinking about this reminded me of a story one of my photography professors told in college. He was in a small European town photographing a very old cathedral. He had waited for the light to be just right, and was setting up the perfect shot of this beautiful relic. A woman walked by and saw him, and asked what he was doing. When he said he'd come to photograph the cathedral, she replied, "That old thing? What for?!" She had walked by it so many times that it was just another fixture in her town. She couldn't imagine why anyone would go out of their way to appreciate it or try to photograph it.

In the same way, I doubt any of the residents of Stonehaven know that they are all living in my idea of paradise on earth. But for many of them, it may not be. For the high school student stuck working weekends at the fish bar, they may be hoping to take off as soon as graduation comes, for a bigger and better city - they may feel stuck and cramped in a tiny town like that, and yearn for freedom.

And then I thought, you know, for all I know, I might be living in someone else's idea of paradise on earth! You probably are too. No matter where you are, there is probably someone who wishes they could be there. For people who feel stuck in the country, there is probably someone just waiting to save up money for some land so they can get out of the rat race of the city and have some peace and quiet. For anyone who feels stuck in a colder climate, there are people (though perhaps not as many) who find the heat oppressive and would actually prefer colder winters. And that's just scratching the surface when you consider people who would do anything to live in a first-world country at all - never mind the climate.

It's good to remember these things. There is nothing wrong with me appreciating the beauty and uniqueness of Stonehaven. It, and other Scottish places will always have a place in my heart. But if I keep yearning after them, not only will I stray into idealization, but I will miss the beauty of where I am, right here, right now. Yes, there will be frustrations here. But that will be true wherever I am. If I moved to Stonehaven right now, it probably wouldn't be long before I discovered things about the town, or government, or weather, (or even residents!) that I really didn't like.

It's the same even with "where I am" in the non-geographical sense. No matter what stage of life I'm in, there will be things I don't like. But there are still people who wish they could be where I am, and it's something I need to keep in mind. I don't mean in a sense of "cherish every moment" idealism, because there will always be frustrations and they shouldn't be minimized or negated or swept under the rug. But it's not wise to yearn too much for the future, or idealize the past, or "what might have been." Instead, I should remember how much good there is in where I am, right NOW. Sometimes a fresh perspective makes a lot of difference in remembering how blessed I am.