Last June on our family vacation to Maui, I started my days on the balcony. Each morning before the boys awoke, I slipped into one of the plush hotel robes that hung in the closet, poured a cup of coffee, slid open the glass door and settled into a patio chair, my bare feet propped on the metal railing still damp with dew. I listened to the exotic cackles and calls of unfamiliar tropical birds, luxuriated in the humid breeze on my face and let myself awaken.
I loved observing the early morning buzz of activity taking place four stories below. As the rising sun painted the palm fronds golden, I watched the attendants in their crisp polo shirts and belted shorts navigate carts towering with clean, folded towels along the resort’s pathways, stopping to distribute neat stacks beneath the canvas cabanas.
Across the way, a shop keeper raised the metal shutter of the dive store, announcing with a clatter that they were open for business.
A gardener hosed down the concrete, while another attendant dutifully lined up the lounge chairs, one after the other in undulating rows alongside the curving edge of the pool.
My first morning on the balcony, I watched a trim, older woman bend low over the shorn grass and use a small straw hand broom to whisk spent blossoms and browned, crinkled leaves into a dustpan. When she completed one small section of the garden, she pushed her wheeled barrel to the next section and began again, crouching low over the ground, whisking and sweeping, leaving the emerald carpet of grass pristine in her wake.
Every morning of our week-long stay in Maui I sat on the balcony in my hotel robe, white mug in hand, and watched the groundskeeper in her neatly pressed uniform and her wide-brimmed woven hat, cord cinched under her neck, as she methodically tidied the garden. Every morning the grass was littered anew with spent blossoms and leaves, and every morning she set to work, crouching, whisking, gathering, disposing.
She moved like a Tai Chi master – slowly and fluidly, but with absolute precision. In the six mornings I watched her, she never missed a single errant petal or leaf.
The groundskeeper’s job was not glamorous, and I don’t want to make the mistake of romanticizing her work. It was back-breaking labor, done day in and day out under the searing Maui sun, undoubtedly for little more than minimum wage, if that. Yet in observing her carefully over several days, I could see from her scrupulous care and meticulous attention to every detail that she took pride in her work. I suspect few people noticed her or recognized the impact of her labor, but that didn’t seem to matter to her. What mattered, it seemed, was the work itself and doing it well. She was committed to her work, regardless of whether anyone noticed the results of her labor or not.
Seven months after our trip to Maui, I still think about the island’s fragrant air, its unceasing tropical breezes, the tumbling Pacific waves, the sea turtle that swam so close to me when I was snorkeling, I almost could have grazed its barnacled back with my fingertips.
Strangely, though, what I think about most often is the groundskeeper in her wide-brimmed woven hat, bending low, whisking and sweeping the lush garden clean.