It was my sixteenth birthday, and my parents bought us a ten-day family vacation in Hawaii. I was thrilled about it—but at the same time, I just kept waiting for more. Waiting for perfection.
Maui was our first stop. Before we deplaned, the flight attendants told us that Maui was also known as rainbow island, suggesting that we might see a rainbow or two during our trip. We stepped off the plane and looked around us. There were six rainbows. At the same time.
It was amazing, surprising, and exactly what I expected. Perfection.
On our third day in Hawaii, my father purchased tickets to a luau at a Marriott hotel down the road from where we were staying. While watching someone kill and cook a pig for entertainment was outside of my comfort zone, sipping a virgin cocktail on a towel by the beach was an activity I could get behind.
…but then it rained.
The hotel decided not to cancel the event and instead held a dinner buffet with an indoor dancing and acrobatics show. My excitement flatlined, however, because what was originally supposed to be my perfect beach escape from my parents turned into a meal with no escape. When we arrived, I was even more dismayed to learn that our table was set for seven instead of the usual three. The only thing worse for my angst than my parents was my parents combined with four strangers who’d fill the table with lifeless adult conversation.
Reflecting on my lack of appreciation is embarrassing, but what was even worse was my arrogance. It wasn’t that I consciously thought I was better than anyone at that dinner. It was the arrogance that characterized my waiting for someone or something to change the situation to best suit me. I wanted six rainbows all the time, and was frustrated when I looked outside and there was nothing.
Unfortunately for my character, I ended up getting what I wanted again, although it definitely wasn’t rainbows. Instead it was the four strangers who sat with us: one in particular.
Her name was Jennie. She was the sixteen-year-old daughter in the family of four that sat with us that night. The family was from a small town in Oklahoma called Watonga: population 5,500. The husband and wife talked with my parents from the start of dinner until the end of the show. Jennie and I had a slower start to our conversation, but it lasted much, much longer.
After the show, Jennie and I exchanged numbers and spent the whole next day together, just the two of us. She was a lost friend that I felt like I had known forever, but this was our only day to reconnect. My family was spending the rest of the trip on Oahu, and hers was staying on Maui. When we had to say goodbye, I remember being annoyed at myself for getting emotional. I only knew this girl for two days, what was I so upset about?
Waiting wasn’t working. Not this time.
I remember Jennie saying that she was sure this wasn’t goodbye forever, but I didn’t believe her. As we were walking back to our rental for the last night, my mom said she agreed with Jennie.
“There’s something special about that girl, Michael. God brought her into your life for a reason.”
That doesn’t mean she’ll stay in it, I thought. The right combination of rain and sun brought the two of us together, but that’s the sort of thing that happens on rainbow island. Most of the time, there’s too much sun, or too much rain. And you can’t change the weather, right?
After we came back from Hawaii, Jennie and I talked for much longer than I thought we would: at least once a week for almost a year. Then things tapered off, until in February when she sent me a text.
“Hey Mike! Hope you’re doing well!! I have sort of a weird and crazy question for you, and it’s fine if you say no because I know that it’s really, really crazy but…will you go to prom with me?”
I laughed out loud—not only because of the logistics it would take to make that happen, but because, once again, our relationship was marked by the surprising, the improbable, and the awesome.
I suppose I could’ve waited longer to see what other blessings might effortlessly appear in front of me. But I wouldn’t have missed this one for the world. What good are any of those perfect, surprising presents if we don’t say—without knowing how it could ever be possible, but with a powerful faith to push our story forward—“Yes! Let’s do this!”
Michael Kelly (’14) graduated from Calvin College with a double major in psychology and writing. Shortly after graduating, he began his graduate level study of educational research, measurement, and evaluation at Boston College. When he is not studying learning and teaching, Michael learns and teaches through stories and writing—fiction and nonfiction, comedy and tragedy, and everything else in between.