Friday, June 29, 2012

The Blessing of a Lifetime

"He looked me directly in the eye and gave me a blessing."

Our daughter's day started in a breathtaking way as she snapped the photo above. She was inside St. Peter's Basilica for a Mass celebrated by The Holy Father. And Holy Cow! What a view she had!

To be there for the mass is one thing, to be inside is another. To be that close is almost unthinkable. She said "there were tons of people outside, lots of them monks and nuns. I felt guilty for being inside while they weren't."

I think it was just a little sting of guilt, because she is quite aware of the extraordinary nature of this experience. Besides, many of the nuns had their own close encounters.

This Holy Mass for the solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul was a history-making affair. The Sistine Choir and the Westminster Abbey Choir sang together for the occasion. It's the first time in more than 500 years that the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches had formally worshiped together in any way. By all accounts, it was breathtaking.

And there was my daughter, seated with one of her traveling companions in the transept with an unobstructed view of the Pope himself. The setting was undeniably spectacular.

This was a completely unexpected once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. She and the other TCU students have had a tour guide during their stay in Rome. Less than 24 hours before the Papal Mass, the tour guide said she had two tickets available to it for anyone who wanted them. Our daughter alertly jumped at the chance, but never dreamed it would turn out like this.

Usually eloquent, she was driven to exclamatory language to describe what she was feeling. Here are some choice quotes:

"Holy crap. That was the coolest thing ever."

"Oh yeah. We were freaking out."

And my favorite: "I think you're going to jump off a bridge when you see my pictures."

Let's say I've been excited all day. I've been distracted. I've had chills. I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around her good fortune. Naturally, I've e-mailed a couple of key photos to Catholic friends and relatives; and the replies have featured all kinds of capital letters and exclamation points.

This is something I'll never forget and I wasn't even there. This is likely an experience so profound that she and her friend will not be able to adequately explain it to others. I'm so happy for them.

She says she has been "ridiculously, unreasonably lucky" on this trip, and this is concrete evidence of that.

There's also the remarkably contrasting experiences she had in about an 18-hour period. The evening before, the soccer team from Italy improbably won its way into the Euro Cup final...igniting wild celebrations across the country. Guess who was right in the middle of it....

She said it actually got too crazy and they retreated to the safety of their hotel. Good judgment there.

One of the people who received the photos I sent said "She's living such a blessed life." I think she would agree, especially after the guy in the pointy hat made eye contact with her and made the sign of the cross. After all, as another friend put it so eloquently: "I mean, it's the freaking Pope!!"

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Roman Holiday

The longer our daughter is away in Europe, and the farther away she gets from English-speaking territory, the less frequently we hear from her. We now know she is thriving in Rome, where of course she has already visited The Vatican.

As well as The Colosseum.

Those are "automatics" when you visit Rome and it's good to know she's meeting the requirements for a first-time visitor.

In brief bursts of communication, she has informed us that her trip has definitely exceeded her expectations. If you think about it, that's saying a lot because when you're talking about London, Paris and Rome I would think your hopes would be especially high. I'm sure a lot of her enjoyment has to do with the company she's keeping. By all accounts, people are getting along well.

It's been easy, from what we can tell from the photos, for them to become immersed in history, art and architecture.

But there's also been a different kind of fun. For instance, they took a cooking class during which they produced hand-made pasta...and then they sat down as a group and enjoyed dinner of their own creation, including what appears to be a really rich dessert.

Glancing at her planning document, I see tomorrow is a free day. So, there are not formal plans. This is an opportunity for her to explore on her own. Knowing her, she will make the most of it.

She had indicated that she can't wait to tell me all about it. I can't wait to hear all about it. In the meantime, I pray every day for safe travels and that she will find the proper balance of activity and rest so that she continues to make the most of the opportunity.

Then, in a couple of days, there's a day-long excursion to Pompeii.
BR> Until she's home safely and starts to tell her stories, I have to be content with photos...and they look pretty nice.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Update On The Sick Person

A couple of months ago, we were in the throes of enduring one of the most stressful times in our family's history. We had someone get hurt, which led to an extended stay in several healthcare facilities. I was careful not to specifically identify The Sick Person, but now I'll reveal it was my older brother.

Happily, he is much better these days, although he still has some work to do. He's home and working moment by moment to normalize his day-to-day activities.

He had a birthday this week and we took him out for Mexican food. He seemed happy.

He retired on January 31st of this year and got injured on February 4th, so this "new normal" thing is particularly challenging for him. He has a lot of time on his hands, but his lingering health issues severely limit his mobility. It's a cruel combination.

I revealed to him last week the distressing news that in March, his doctors declared he would never go home again...that his injuries were too profound. Thank God they were wrong about that. It got his attention, though. He realizes now how far he's come and is beginning to grasp that his recovery has exceeded everyone's expectations.

I remember sending an e-mail to interested parties when he moved back to his house after almost four months in a hospital, long-term acute care facility, nursing home/ rehab facility and then a transitional residence. One of his physicians responded by writing "best of luck with this bold move."

Bold, indeed...but it has worked out well so far. Now, we hope he stays on his feet, continues to get stronger and figures out what to do with all of his free time.

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Passport to Paris

Knowing my daughter, I strongly suspect she finds herself affecting a French accent this week. How could she not? With an ongoing unsettling absence of hard information, we're making assumptions about her activities based almost exclusively on photos she and some of her traveling companion are posting on the internet.

We've seen boat rides on the Siene, the consumption of baguettes, and plenty of pictures of Paris at night.

So, she's hitting the high points...including the Louvre.

I also know there are plans to attend a high-end fashion show. I wonder how Paris fashions would translate to Ft. Worth? I doubt there are many cowboy boots involved.

Before she left, there was a little bit of nervousness because she didn't really know most of her traveling party. It looks like she's making friends.

That's great news, if it's true. I mean, they'll always have Paris.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Retiring The London Face

The last communication we received from our world-traveling daughter advised us that she had left London.

Which means the end, I suppose, of making what she and her traveling companions are calling the "London face."

They were excited, we hear, about taking a train from London to Paris. Since The English Channel is in between the two...that means a high-speed trip through the Chunnel.

We have heard from her just once since her departure from British soil, but photographic evidence posted on the internet strongly suggests she is on the move.

In a brief but reassuring e-mail, she said she was actually using some of the French she learned over the years in school, and that she knows more than she realized. C'est bon!

Her itinerary says she took a boat tour of Paris, which ended at the Eiffel Tower. Looks like it worked out. She really enjoys art. In fact, we found out to our alarm that she spent one day in London by herself touring museums. So, it should come as no surprise that an early destination in Paris was the Rodin Museum.

We're just kind of piecing information together, because e-mail and social network activity have really slowed down since she crossed the Channel. Maybe France is just so fabulous she hasn't taken the time to boot up the Macbook. Let's hope so.

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Friday, June 15, 2012

A Dead Shark and an Old Pub

If you plan to immerse yourself in British culture, it seems fitting that you would spend some time examining art. So, why not go to The Tate Galleries and see a dead shark?

This is the signature piece in a major exhibition at Tate Modern of the works of Damien Hirst. Hirst, who is widely believed to be the wealthiest artist in the United Kingdom, rose to prominence in the 1990's by preserving dead animals in formaldehyde and displaying them in clear cases. Art? Taxidermy? It's not for me to decide. The British masses have made a clear declaration. A couple of decades after it was first displayed, the series called “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” still captures the imagination. This despite the fact that the original shark began to decay and this guy is a replacement.

There are several museums on our daughter's agenda today, and I feel confident she will also see painting and sculpture.

She's certainly soaking in history along with modern art. For example, let's look at the lovely River Thames.

There on the bank is a pub called The Mayflower,which we are told has been there in the same spot since the 1670's. The 1670's!

I suppose the spirits have flowed across the bar there much like the old Thames, rolling on without ceasing across the generations.

But not for our daughter, in theory anyway. You see, she's just 20 and she signed a pledge to abide by her school's honor code which does not allow her to consume alcohol on this trip. Call me ultra-liberal or something, but it seems to me if you're going to a London pub having a sip of something would be part of the experience. We want her to follow the rules, though. It would be terrible if she were sent home for an honor code violation. Seriously. So, I guess she's just enjoying the views.

To be fair, the trip to the pub is labeled as "dinner." So, Okay.

Back here stateside, her mother and I have become cyber stalkers, hoping to catch any glimpse of her on some social site somewhere. In everything we've seen, she's all smiles. Here she is with a few of her traveling companions outside Westminster Abbey.

How could she NOT be? I want to be 20 again.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

High Tea and Shakespeare

All the trepidation is gone. In the final days before her departure for the Great Europe Summer of 2012, our daughter didn't know what to expect. London was her first stop, and it was the destination for which she had the least enthusiasm. That's all changed. In fact, she now describes Neal's Yard at Covent Garden as her "favorite place ever."

Don't ask me what Neal's Yard at Covent Garden is, but I'm sure it's great. Hey, I did an internet search and got an overview. It sounds pretty cool, especially if you're 20 years old and on the adventure of your life.

And then, there was "high tea" at the Kensington Hotel.

She described the experience as "fabulous," which I believe even though I'm not completely clear on what "high tea" exactly is. In her honor, I had some Tostitos with pico de gallo with a cup of orange pekoe in a TCU mug while watching "Breaking Bad" reruns in my den.

I suspect our experiences were not all that similar. She said high tea did take a while and by the time they were finished she was ready to get out of her dress and "out and about." She added she might be truly ready for high tea when she's "about 80, but not yet." That's my girl.

She wrote that they did "a tiny bit of shopping;" a piece of news that becomes slightly alarming when paired with a photo she sent of Harrods, which is known worldwide for its commitment to luxury. Hey, I do know something about London!

They also did some kind of Shakespeare in the park thing where they took in a production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which followed tours of a couple of famous theaters. That's something it seems you must do if you're a student in London.

She and her traveling companions, being bright and alert young people, have adapted well to navigating the city, which has to be a relief. They can relax, plan and enjoy themselves.

(I look at the one guy in the photo and think, "Wow. that kid is either having the time of his life or he's in misery." I don't see much potential for anything in between.)

I wonder how everybody's getting along. This group will be traveling together for almost a month; and while I only know one of the ladies other than my daughter, I am aware of the requirements for eligibility for this trip. Let's just say there are some high achievers in this crew and it wouldn't surprise me if there are a dozen or so would-be generals in that battalion.

We've heard nothing of tension in the group, which is terrific.

Our daughter wrote in all capital letters that she is LOVING London "much more than I expected." That's really all a parent needs to hear. She will be there for a few days more, then it's on to Paris. I certainly hope The City of Lights exceeds her expectations, too.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sightseeing by Snapshot

We were talking recently about how we take for granted being in constant contact with almost everybody. If you want to be reached, you can be. It wasn't that long ago that you would watch the mailbox when a loved one was traveling, hoping for a postcard.

With our daughter in Europe, we are experiencing a modern-day version of that. Instead of watching for the postman, we're checking Instagram and Twitter for glimpses of her day. So, imagine our delight early this morning when we saw a filtered photo of Big Ben and the Union Jack pop up on social media.

This was posted without comment, assuming I suppose that some things speak for themselves.

I was hoping to discern some of her activities by glancing at her itinerary, but today's plans simply indicated she would visit places "that many tourists frequent." Gosh, it's London. That's a pretty wide net. The only other image to show up out there on the web was Windsor Castle.

Having never been to London, I can only assume many tourists do, indeed, frequent Windsor Castle.

And then, as if by magic, an e-mail appeared. ----------------------------

Hello mother and father! Today was splendid! We took a bus tour around London and got a great tour guide. She was hilarious. Her name was Trudy and she was a hoot and a half to say the least. Then we broke off into groups and got to do whatever we wanted basically. So my group went to Windsor Castle and it was out of this world... We used the tube a lot and got some great practice with the trains so now I'm an expert.

London really is very cool. The city is impressive and the parks are gorgeous. The only downside is the rainy, cool weather. You know I hate the cold. But all the hot guys make up for that. Dang.

Anyway, tomorrow I'm doing some shopping for warmer clothes so be on the lookout. Then we're doing a Shakespeare and Dickens tour, having High Tea, and seeing A Midsummer Night's Dream. Lovely! Spit Spot!




Spit spot, indeed. I was so happy to hear from her and to note her irrepressible sense of humor being seasoned with British jocularity, I laughed out loud. That will make your day. She could have left out the part about the guys, but I'm sure her mother appreciated that.

I got a nice note earlier in the day from someone who has been watching our daughter's travels here and on social media. The note congratulated us on preparing her well to maximize these opportunities. That gave me a sense that the roles are gradually but incontrovertibly reversing. At 20 years old, she's already much more worldly than her parents. That's okay, as long as eventually she makes it home safely.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

There She Goes Again

"2 taxis and 2 hotels later we found the right one! It's fine London, and totally normal to name all your hotels the same three words."

That update from Twitter tells us that our daughter's Great Europe Summer has begun. Because we have carefully cautioned her about the expense of international data rates, we don't expect to hear much from her while she's gone to London, Paris and Rome. In these plugged-in days, it's difficult on Mom and Dad to be left wondering about what she's doing.

We dropped her off, along with a traveling companion, at DFW International on a Sunday evening and waved farewell. On the ride to the airport, they were very chatty...filled with nervous energy and a generous dose of trepidation. They seemed excited. Who wouldn't be? This is a big adventure for both of them and the dozen or so other TCU students they're meeting across the pond.

After they disappeared into the airport throng, they were out of our control. The farther away they went, the less information we were getting. (There's a metaphor in there somewhere). Fortunately, the internet has tools which allow you to track flights; so we did. It was a little unsettling to see that little airplane flying over open ocean.

Fortunately for easily freaked out parents, we fell asleep shortly after the plane slipped out of Canadian airspace and when we woke up, it had long since landed safely at Heathrow. We also had received a a reassuring 3:08 a.m. text message that said "Landed Safely. Cheerio."

Jolly good.

There is an ambitious itinerary which includes plenty of culture, classic and pop, before they move on to France and then to Italy. Good work if you can get it. She does have to work, because this is a school-sanctioned trip under the umbrella of "Cultural Pilgrimage." She must keep a journal and do a rather extensive project. That's okay with her because she's a worker and the process will help her stay focused on her excellent adventure.

By the way, should I be at all concerned that the second time she showed up on social media from London, she was obviously at a pub? She's there for the soccer on the big screen, right?

Watch out for hooligans, Honey.

I hope there's an internet hot spot in that pub. Otherwise these little snapshots on Twitter and Instagram are gonna get expensive.

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