Today Hanalei Bay began to feel a bit like the Jersey shore with all the tourists, colored umbrellas, hundreds of surfers, medical masks stuck in the sand along the shoreline, a dirty diaper, mothers chasing babies in Italian, professional photographers and young models with pants in the water to capture the perfect sunset shot.
No, this isn’t a rant about how sweet seven months of Covid was for all of us on Kauai, when we all lived in a time before time, when everyone recognized everyone, and we all knew the names of the dogs and the children and women who worked at Big Save in Hanalei.
This is a story about a beautiful young woman who came out of the ocean naked this afternoon, walking the shoreline fully nude, nothing on her perfect body but nipples and barely there hair and golden skin, dripping and walking toward her towel, fully awake and shameless, her clothed man behind her as if this was just another day.
This is about all of us stopping for a moment on this now overcrowded beach of Hanalei – all our conversations pausing, putting down our books, poking each other to look – LOOK, she’s NAKED, and the whole earth seemed to sigh as she walked to her towel, strutting, then gliding, not like she was walking down a runway, like she was alone – just her and earth and her striped towel the destination.
She walked through the families, past the older couple reading their books, dropping their reading glasses lower on their nose, past the pink umbrella and the two female surfers in wet suits, because the water has the fall chill, now.
She emerged out of the Pacific Ocean like it was a giant womb, like she was part of the creation mythology that links us all to each other, as the sun was setting over the dragon.
And she laid down on her towel, face down, the whole landscape of her in tune with the whole landscape of Hanalei.
She spoke to all of us who always leave something on – a t-shirt, underwear, a lacy bra, shame. She spoke to the masks, to the too much of everything we carry with us – purses, keys, backpacks, shoes, bathing suits and coverups, hats and sunscreen, our mother’s shame. She spoke to the part of us that wants to be kissed by Hanalei Bay, too, that wants the tongue of the waves to lick us awake. She was Mary Magdalene and Eve, she was Hebe, the divine personification of youth and beauty.
And though I’ve never been fully comfortable nude, even in my most beautiful, even in my most fit, before all the surgeries. – today I understood it wasn’t about sex, it was about earth.
How we need to come to her exactly as we are, and let her hold all of us, as she comes to us exactly as she is.
When I was twenty six I was commissioned to pose nude for a well known sculpture artist in Philadelphia, uncomfortably nude on a sofa while his wife made coffee in the kitchen, and he said RELAX, put your right hand over your left breast, like you just came home from work, dropped your briefcase, took off your clothes and are touching your breast.
And I said…ummm, that’s not a natural thing – women don’t come home from work and drop their briefcase and drape their hand across their breast.
He abruptly said he couldn’t work with me. His assistant handed me my clothes and on the way out of the room she leaned toward me and whispered, thank you for saying that.
Today, after the naked woman laid breast-down on her towel on the sand, we went back to our books, our wives, our boyfriends and husbands, our masks and our coverups and our dinner plans. Taking photos of the clouds and the sunset. But we didn’t leave her behind. She awakened something in all of us.
Earth was the backdrop I needed when I was 26, not a sofa in a studio with a woman making coffee and an annoyed artist, saying act natural in an unnatural setting.
I just needed the tropical ocean, for the artist to say, act as if you are inside the creation myth, as if you are the Greek Goddess Hebe, the personification of youth and beauty, and you have just returned from the sea.