Recently I was in the Florida Keys for a few days. One
day of the trip, we visited Key West. All around I saw signs that said “Welcome
to Paradise.” I probably should preface my writing by saying that I’m not so
much a beach person as a mountain person, so even if conditions are “perfect” I
probably wouldn’t think of Key West as paradise.
During the course of our day’s visit, I did, however,
witness things that made me consider how paradise might be imagined by
different people. And for my friends who are living with much snow, maybe a
mental image of palm trees and ocean breezes does sound like paradise right
From conversations I had to things I saw, I offer a few
perspectives from this place called Paradise:
A cruise ship was in port for the day, and the folks
sitting at the next table in the restaurant where we ate lunch were very loud,
drinking heavily and were wearing t-shirts with obscenities written on them.
They were retirees. I wonder if they see paradise as a suspension of the aging
process, an attempt to reclaim youth.
A clerk in a store lamented the high cost of living in
the Keys. He talked about apartment rents that rivaled those in New York City.
I wonder if those whose jobs in Key West serve visiting tourists have a sense
that they are living in paradise. What is the income gap between the tourists
who visit and the workers whose jobs are dependent on those tourists?
As we left Key West, we passed a park and I saw someone
who appeared to be homeless asleep on the ground next to his bicycle. I wonder
if he feels welcomed in paradise.
We stand on the threshold of the season of Lent,
a time that invites us to introspection, to going deeper in our faith by
voluntarily giving up superficial ways of living. I offer you an invitation to
see beyond the surface this Lent, to glimpse the different perspectives with
which we and others see the world around us or the world that is within us.