Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Despising the Pleasant Lands

My son remarked last night that almost all of his Michigan-born friends continually complain about living in Michigan, and can't wait to move somewhere else. Coming from Maryland, where people are rabidly proud of their Orioles, crab cakes and Baltimore (even though it's a lot like it's pictured on "The Wire"), this continues to surprise him. "Even my New Jersey friends love New Jersey, and everyone knows that it's a hell hole," he said.

No, all his Michigan friends want to move to Florida.

Which is funny, because my younger sister has lived in Florida most of her life. And she hates it. She calls her town of Bradenton "Bradentucky" and says that every time she gets on a plane to go somewhere else, she thinks, "At last! I'm going to civilization!"

She wants to move to San Diego or L.A. I imagine out there, there are people who hate California, too ... for its wildfires, pollution, traffic, pomposity, etc. I bet some of them want to move to that paradise on Earth, Hawai'i.

Which is funny, because people who live in Hawai'i can also start to hate it. In her new book, "Acedia and Me: Marriage, Monks and a Writer's Life," Kathleen Norris (who grew up in Hawai'i, and spends a good part of her life there now, caring for her aging mother) writes about a terrible phenomenon that the island dwellers experience.

Many people stationed in Hawai'i with the military or large corporations come to feel a nagging contempt for the place. They hate the ocean because it reminds them that they are living on an island in the most isolated island chain on earth. They dismiss paradise as "the rock," and refer to their sad condition with perverse pride as "rock fever."

Norris sees this alienation from place as a symptom of a spiritual illness that prevents us from being happy where we are, that cuts us off from joy in our lives, joy in our relationships, and joy in God.

Look outside. This is one of the ugliest sorts of days Michigan has to offer. Can you see the beauty in it? Can you figure out a way to love this pleasant land and not despise it? To be at peace where you are planted?

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