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 now!
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.