A Tourist At Home

A couple of years ago, I wrote about becoming a grandmother at age 33. Well, it happened again.

Only this time, the new arrival is a little man.

Several months ago, when my husband observed that the due date was the day before my birthday, he began plotting. You see, our kids relocated last summer—putting a considerable distance between us and them. Jesse knew that I would be dying to hold that tiny new person as much as he was, and that it wasn’t feasible for all of us to go. So, that wonderful man designated his Christmas bonus money… and this granny got a plane ticket for her birthday!

And get this—the kids’ new home happens to be in Hawaii!!! 

Not that that matters or anything.

Long story short, I recently spent a week touring the island of Oahu with a tiny, perfect newborn, a delightfully precocious toddler, and their sweet parents (who happen to be some of my favorite people).

It was a wonderful visit. And I will share a few of my favorite photos. But my purpose in bringing it up is not to give a detailed account of the glories of the Hawaiian islands, or a  play by play on the adorable antics of my grandbabies.

(This is a Christian blog, so I will forgive the little sigh of relief you uttered just now.)

What I have been reflecting on, and what I want to discuss with you all, is something of the psychology of tourism.

I was a tourist.

I tromped all over a tropical island, sporting skin a shade whiter than ivory. I stopped to take a picture of a large snail in Pearl Harbor, and another of an ugly dog wearing a lei of silk flowers in Waikiki—and I show them to people. I experienced a satisfying sense of local-ness and authenticity from eating chocolate covered macadamia nuts and drinking Kona coffee.

I fancied myself a different class of tourist, though.

I was primarily visiting family, after all.  I donned neither an angry sunburn nor conspicuous white smears of SPF 200. I didn’t ask people to take pictures of me in front of utterly unspectacular signs heralding popular tourist attractions. I didn’t feel like I was savvy to local culture because I knew what “aloha” and “mahalo” meant. And I never carried a shopping bag containing tiki gods, palm-tree-painted ukeleles, or hula girl refrigerator magnets.

As much as my vanity appreciates these distinctions, I did have something important in common with all of the other tourists (ridiculous or refined) on the island. We shared a sort of  heightened awareness of our surroundings. We expected things to be new, beautiful, exciting, interesting. We found ourselves suddenly intrigued by Polynesian culture, volcanoes,  beach fashion, WWII history, or tropical flora and fauna—whether or not we’d ever taken the time to consider them before.

Even everyday things made an impression if they varied at all from our normal experience. Traffic patterns, cloud formations, bathroom signs, or sidewalk building material might become a topic for earnest conversation at any time. We paid attention—ready to compare and contrast every little thing with its counterpart in our various states or countries of residence.

At least in my case, my very outsider-ness made me consider what it would be like to be an insider. What history (ancient or modern) helped shape the culture in this place? What about the climate or the relative isolation of a small island? What is the spiritual atmosphere here, and how does that affect folks? And behind the friendly smiles and alohas, what is the general feeling toward tourists such as myself. Am I welcomed as an economic boost or resented as an obnoxious inconvenience? Probably both.

The point is that noticing how much I noticed has made me wonder if I oughtn’t be more of a tourist at home.

My own front porch may be the only place I visit with almost no consideration of how the history of the place has influenced the culture and worldview around me.

I noticed the old lady walking down a busy street in Honolulu, wearing her bright muumuu, with flowers pinned up in her still waist-length, but greying hair. I wondered about her life, how much change she’d seen in her time, and whether she was really the mixture of traditional Pacific islander and modern American that she appeared to be.

But after waving a quick hello on my way by, I spend very little (if any) time pondering the life and circumstances of the elderly man weeding his garden, three doors down from my own.

On vacation, I take in the details of the grand estates, the slums, and everything in between. Architecture is interesting. I marvel at the landscapes, the plants, and the calls of the birds.

At home, things are always as they are. I hardly notice my surroundings (man-made or natural) most of the time.

If I tried to be a tourist here in Portland, I wonder what I might discover.

What if I began each day, activity, or outing expecting to spot something beautiful or interesting? Wouldn’t I pay more attention and take more notice? I might find out something about our history and culture. I might see some glimpses of God’s glory. I might just have a richer life.

What if I was curious about the people whose paths I crossed? What if I took time to consider what their story might be?  Though novelty of appearance isn’t a measure of a person’s uniqueness or significance, there’s certainly no shortage of interesting looking people in Portland to speculate about.

The cool thing about approaching people on the home turf with a tourist’s curiosity is that I might actually have the opportunity to get to know them, find out about their life…and do something with that information. 

Or even in my own home? I adore my family, but if I tried to see them with fresh eyes—as though I were discovering for the first time who they really are—I might just find myself utterly fascinated with them all over again, and learn how to love them better.

Plus, tourists to Portland usually visit Powell’s Books, and I wouldn’t mind doing that again soon.

As I promised (or threatened)…a few pictures:

My first taste of Hawaii. Spent a morning at this pretty beach on the north shore.
My first taste of Hawaii. Spent a morning at this pretty beach on the north shore.
Don't know what this amazing tree is actually called, but granddaughter called it the "peek-a-boo" because its base seems made for that game.
Don’t know what this amazing tree is actually called, but the granddaughter called it the “peek-a-boo-tree” because its base seems made for that game.
I confess...I hogged him.
I confess…I hogged him.
Me and the girl. So much fun!
Me and the girl. So much fun!
Some cacti on a hike and a raincloud that did get us.
Some cacti on a hike and a raincloud that did get us.

5 thoughts on “A Tourist At Home”

  1. Great article, welcome ‘back’. Congratulations on grandchild no 2! Happy pictures.
    One missional church writer said something like this – can’t remember who: If we were going overseas as a missionary we likely would take lots of time to learn the language, culture, history and figure out how to make connections with people. But in our own culture we tend to assume ‘our’ culture is ‘normal’ – and in the West, fairly benign to Christianity. He was arguing that we need to rethink our post-Christendom culture in terms of missionaries going to a foreign land. How would we see it differently? How would it change our focus?
    PS And as a former tourist and visitor to Powell’s books, Portland scored highly with our family!
    PPS I wish you hadn’t put up those pictures of Hawaii – looking out here at a cold, grey Dublin day and trying not to feel jealous

    1. I imagine that as a foreign missionary, I would try to discover and embrace the unique beauty within the culture–and I think that’s how I’d see it. But I’m sure I’d also work to become aware of cultural sources of hostility or resistance to the faith, in order to better contend with them.
      I think at home, believers tend to intentionally hide from “the world” by creating and functioning in a safe subculture. Or they have so embraced and immersed themselves in popular culture and it’s assumptions, that they don’t even see where it’s at odds with being a follower of Christ, and the concept of being an ambassador has very little practical meaning.
      I know I’m guilty of both.

    2. Oh, I almost forgot – thank you for the congratulations. The little guy is pretty great! And I don’t mind if you’re jealous. It’s a grey day here as well, and I’m a little jealous of me right now. A grey day in Dublin sounds far more interesting than a grey day in Portland anyhow. 😉

  2. Do you think it to be a common issue for a lot of Christians, who naturally have such a desire to fulfill the “Great Commission”, to become so engulfed by the ministries that God has placed them in outside of the home, that they fail to see the existing and new(through the eyes of Christ) beauty inside of it?

    1. Perhaps…but I don’t think a failure to appreciate the worth and beauty in our own families is usually the result of robust kingdom-mindedness.
      Certainly, people who are sincerely striving to love and serve God can twist their priorities all askew. But when I neglect my family by spending too much time on otherwise good and valid things, it is usually because I feel like being selfish and hiding.
      Other investments don’t require nearly as much of my heart, are easier to put boundaries on, and don’t lay as much claim on my identity.
      We can get caught up in other ministries and stop “seeing” our own family, but, in my opinion, there’s usually quite a bit more than benign, noble zeal for the great commission involved.

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