Paradise is a moving target.
Standing in a small shop, the store owner laments her neighborhood. Filled with historic homes, dense green foliage lining the streets, and strong hints of a time gone by, her words are heavy.
“Yes, we love it,” she said. “But it’s changing now.”
Looking around I see beautifully restored homes, streets tastefully updated, and people walking along the sidewalks.
“This used to be quiet, but now people with money are moving here to make it into their paradise,” she said. “Cutting out trees, tearing down houses, changing the place.”
I think about her words and how they could apply to practically anywhere. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – and many times the beauty defines itself in the possibilities rather than the present. And with each person comes a slightly different view of paradise.
At the moment I’m standing on a small island in the Florida Keys. But in reality, this could just as well be said to a tiny town I recently visited in the mountains in northwestern Alabama or the Texas Hill Country. Each is a beautiful location – rightfully attracting visitors to experience and share in their unique charm.
The downside to many locals is a certain number of visitors cannot resist the emotional gravitational pull to make their personal mark on their newfound paradise. To them, paradise could be improved if only…
And so it goes – paradise becomes a moving, evolving target. Progress, the term many times employed to explain changes in a community, will always come with a double-edged sword. As more and more people visit, businesses blossom or move to town to serve the growing audience. And as the cycle continues, the original paradise evolves into something – while rooted in the original – different.
My thoughts go back to a little fishing town our family would visit each summer in the Ozarks. A small, pockmarked downtown, a grocery store or two, and countless rainbow trout waiting for us to unpack the car and get down to the water.
The word got out. Today Branson, Missouri is a juggernaut of tourism – something akin to a country-western version of Las Vegas. The dusty town of sparsely populated two-lane roads is now home to an airport welcoming full-size commercial airliners.
I’m sure, if I could find a store clerk from those original days, they’d have an opinion or two about what happened to their paradise over the course of a few decades.
Standing near this store clerk in the Keys, I understand the regret she reveals in her words. Her version of paradise is under attack. And the changes are not under her control. And she’s right. Progress (or changes) will one day arrive rendering her town potentially unrecognizable.
I’m beginning to understand paradise is temporary if not indefinable. We all see paradise as our nirvana, the place we can happily spend eternity. That is if only we removed that tree and put a new wing on the house over there…