Hawaii’s shifty rainbows taught me a lesson about wanting and waiting.
In 2003, I took a solo trip to Hawaii. I picked my trip largely so that I could get a close-up look at the state’s famous rainbows.
Rainbows had taken on a sacred meaning in my life. They represented peace, healing, and a spiritual connection. On my 8-hour flight to the Big Island on my 25th birthday, I never doubted the rainbows to come.
The Certainty and Elusiveness of Rainbows
To illustrate my confidence in these many sightings to come, here’s some background. Hawaii has more rainbows than most other places due to the ideal combination on the islands of rain, mist and sunlight. They have athletic teams named after rainbows.
They are a key part of the state’s travel industry, often displayed on postcards and keychains. They’re pretty much guaranteed on tourism sites. Rainbows seemed as integral to me in Hawaii’s poetry, songs and stories as the ocean and volcanoes. I imagined spectacular displays of color in the sky at every turn.
However, to my gradually increasing horror, by the last day of my week-long trip to the Rainbow State, I had seen no sign of my sacred symbols. Not a single rainbow in the sky. Nothing.
I stayed at a non-profit, educational eco-resort called Kalani, and had many other adventures. I discovered my first living reef hiding in local tide pools, watched wild dolphins from a black-sand beach, and learned about the power of lava to create earth.
But at the end of each of these incredible days, while sitting on a giant cliff overlooking the ocean, I would meditate and look for my rainbows. Each evening I would leave disappointed.
When I complained to the locals and other visitors, they would say things like, “You haven’t seen any rainbows? I just saw one on my walk over here.” I was increasingly frustrated and confused.
Mirage in Paradise
On one tour to visit local tide pools, I tried to manifest a faint rainbow in the clouds, like a mirage in the desert. My driver couldn’t see it (in fact he told me it was the wrong direction from the sun for a rainbow), and I knew I was just straining for colors. I couldn’t understand it.
After all I had been through, why would my God, or the Universe, or the Hawaiian Goddess Pele for Pete’s sake, deny me this?
On the last night of my trip, I told the reception staff at Kalani that I wouldn’t be back until I found a rainbow. I teased that they may have to send the shuttle van to the ocean to pick me up for the airport in the morning. By this time the entire staff knew of my plight.
“Good luck!” said the hopeful volunteer. This was my last chance.
I found my usual spot, in front of a wooden swing a resort volunteer must have hung years ago among the coconut trees. It was near enough to the cliff’s edge that I didn’t feel like I’d fall over, but as close as I needed for an unimpeded view of the ocean.
I spread out my usual Hawaii gear — a towel to sit on, my journal and oil pastels, and a camera. (This was pre-iPhone days.) My ocean view was, from the best I could figure, the perfect angle from the sun for a rainbow to form above it. (I had worked out the directions by this point.)
My Last chance
And, it was the most recommended spot near the resort for evening rainbow-spotting. The rugged cliffs were deserted that afternoon and I had the ocean all to myself.
I sat and hoped for hours, determined to manifest a rainbow. I would intermittently write or sketch in my journal, checking the sky frequently for progress. Occasionally, a dull thump would startle me as a coconut fell to the ground behind me.
I took a few pictures of the waves crashing violently against the dark rocky terrain far below me. I meditated on the more peaceful waves at a distance, and looked for families of dolphins. I thought about the ocean continuing on for miles, and what ancient humans must have imagined was at the end of it.
After nearly two hours, just as the sky started to hint of sunset and the air became wet, I saw a tiny snippet of a rainbow between two clouds. As quickly as it appeared, new clouds covered it up again.
It was nothing more spectacular than what I might see a handful of times a year back home in Missouri, but I sighed with relief and said under my breath, “Well at least now I can say I saw a rainbow in Hawaii.” Finally. I can let this go.
The moisture began to form droplets, and I worried if I didn’t leave soon it would be dark and pouring before I made the walk back to my modest lodge room. So I packed up my camera and journal.
I took a deep breath to settle for a few final moments, to enjoy my last precious seconds of serenity, and reflect on the meaning of my week-long adventure.
I accepted the small glimpse of my rainbow as an offering, and decided to make peace with the island.
When I turned back towards the ocean, I saw my snippet of colors in the sky appear again, and realized that while I was packing up to beat the rain, the clouds had been slowly moving. It was misting in the air, and sprinkles started to fall.
I was confused at first, but as the white fluffs spread like curtains at a play, it slowly registered that my piece of rainbow was just that — a small slice of the fullest, most magnificent view I’d ever seen.
I now saw a complete, unimpeded arc framing the water below. The rich colors were pure, but each gracefully blended into the next: soft violet, pastel blue, striking green, bright yellow, hazy orange, rustic purple, and bold red.
As I took in each color with a childlike awe, my gaze went beyond the edge of the bow, and again I saw something more that I’d been missing. I gasped. Just behind my spectacular arc was its perfect reflection.
The colors of the second bow were just slightly dimmer, and appeared in reverse.
Together, they formed a fully visible, spectacular double rainbow, displayed at sunset over the Pacific Ocean. It was a magnificent piece of artwork in Hawaii’s sky, above the already breathtaking waves. It was much more than I had imagined in any of my fantasies.
I sat and stared for a long moment, my mouth opened, too stunned to form cohesive thoughts. I was humbled and tearful, and once my mind settled, I knew it would be one of the most profoundly spiritual moments of my life.
A glimpse of my futile attempts to see rainbows everyday flashed through my mind.
It was then that I understood why I hadn’t seen a rainbow all week, and why I’d had to tolerate the disappointment each day. It was so that I could fully appreciate and experience this moment, in its beauty and majesty.
More than 15 years later now, I can remember that double rainbow in great detail, and it brings back tears and goosebumps when I think of it or tell this story. And the lesson has mostly stuck.
If I’d gotten what I expected, even demanded at times, I would have taken it for granted. If I’d seen rainbows every day of my trip, this masterpiece would have meant much less. I may have barely remembered it.
Sometimes what the universe has in store for us makes us laugh at what we thought we wanted.
Since that time, the Kalani resort was hit hard by the area’s volcanic eruptions. They seemed to be closing down for good. But I learned that last year they reopened.
They re-opened with a new sense of purpose. According to their website, the word Kalania means “divine.” They also now use the new term Kalanimua, which means “cosmic progress,” or “divine evolution.”
I know many people hate the expression that everything happens for a reason. It can seem a cruel and insincere cliché for someone going through a difficult time. It can even be insulting to a world struggling with a pandemic.
But we do now that growth comes out of pain and tragedy, even when you can’t possibly see how at the time. And rainbows come after storms.
Maybe everything doesn’t happen for a reason. But we can find a reason, or our own meaning, out of anything that happens.