catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 14 :: 2007.07.13 — 2007.07.27


Paradise wanted?

On a recent trip to Utah, my traveling companion and I drove through
Vail, Colorado.  Even though we breezed through on the interstate,
we both got the impression of a carefully crafted atmosphere, designed
to serve the country’s wealthier citizens on their ski holidays with
quaint shops, dramatic views and comfortable condos.  Tucked in
the middle of the Rocky Mountains, it seemed that there was little room
for low-income housing or sprawling strip mall ghost towns.

I can’t claim that this brief and distant impression presents an
entirely accurate picture of Vail.  A closer look would reveal the
brokenness that stands in the shadows of all human community.  But
it recalled places I’ve experienced from a much closer proximity: the
condos near the MTV beach house in San Diego where the college party
life survives graduation; the ocean coast near Ft. Lauderdale where
high rise hotels and multi-million dollar homes are edging out the
classic motels; Door County, Wisconsin—a paradise for craft-loving
shoppers and afficionados of all things cherry; the High Hampton Inn
in Cashiers, North Carolina, where ‘rustic’ includes dressing up for
dinner served by polite international workers.  And what about Grand Marais, Minnesota and Fort Langley, British Columbia and Winter Park, Colorado

Of course, one person’s idea of paradise can differ dramatically from
another’s—the San Diego beach reads to me more like some level of hell
while Grand Marais captures my utopian vision, even in winter. 
Regardless of our personal preferences, these places seem to have some
common threads as getaway destinations. The phrase ‘getting away from
it all’ refers not only to escaping our daily responsibilities, but it
often implies escaping poverty, traffic, sprawl, urban decay (but not
the shabby sheik kind, of course), technology—all things that are part
of the everyday ‘real’ world.

Millions of people have no sense of dissonance whatsoever as they
flock to tourist destinations around the world.  However, many
people can’t help but feel a little bit edgy in such paradise
locales.  And for those who claim to believe in a future that
involves eternal joy, why feel so uncomfortable in these little
manufactured heavens?  Perhaps because the signs of brokenness are
so much more subtle—consumerism and apathy so omnipresent that the lack
of contrast promotes them to normative status.  And I still
haven’t come to any meaningful conclusion about the usefulness of
places that only people of a certain economic status can access. 
Even though I’ve been in places where I feel I don’t belong, mostly
because I don’t have the money to ‘do it right’, I know I’ve also felt
quite comfortable in places that exclude others.

Standing in contrast to these utopian vacation spots—and even
sometimes within them—is the goodness of vacation community.  You
may know what I’m referring to: the people you see only in the summer,
or only once a year at a certain holiday.  I was musing on this
phenomenon just recently at the Fourth of July picnic on my
grandparents’ lake as I reconnected with the step mother of a girl I
used to play with and recognized my aunt and uncle’s older ‘lake’
friends who I had looked up to so much as a child.  But all of
this sense of community depended on belonging to a family that could
afford the property and the water toys and the time off, so I take it
in with both gratitude and reservation.

Helping me make sense of this paradox is that we are creatures who
were made for love but screw up thoroughly and often.  We long for
a Kingdom in which both the wild places and the urban centers are whole
for everyone’s joy and we have a two thousand year old assurance, as
well as daily evidence, that such a reality exists, even now.  But
in an in-between time, moments of joy are haunted by the reality of
despair and the light of hope shines even in the darkest corners of our

As much as I’m tempted to disdain the ‘unreal’ places that we
construct for pleasure, I must acknowledge that such construction
emerges from a place of hope—hope that suffering is not all there
is.  However, a certain measure of skepticism seems to be healthy
here.  I hope I can acknowledge the unsettling paradox, rather
than shoving it beneath layers of bliss until I’m dangerously practiced
at willful ignorance.  I hope I can ask good questions even while
enjoying the world’s seemingly utopian places about what exactly it is
that makes me uncomfortable, how my choices can encourage social and
environmental justice, whether good feelings are anchored in joy or
lost in illusive happiness.  As Orlando Redekopp says in the
classic Living More with Less, “We can’t take a holiday from our convictions.”

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