What a long, strange trip it’s been. As I write, it is Day 18 of the Great Summer Road Trip. I was actually home for a few hours to drop off kids and pick up a case of wine (fair trade?) but I don’t think that counts. That was just re-fueling. We were supposed to have gone on a trip this summer with friends that started in Barcelona, but circumstances changed. Of course, every travel ad I have seen since then has been for … Barcelona! Instead, I put together all of my husband’s loyalty points for hotels, air, and car, and cobbled together the Great Kennedy Family Road Trip of 2017. Our original plans were based around places we wanted to see. This trip was planned around people we wanted to see. Anyone seeing the hand of God here?
As an East Coast transplant to Texas with school-aged kids, I don’t get back to the area I consider home that often. As I have written before, it is easy to feel disconnected when you are between countries. And, yes, I consider Texas its own country. In addition, when I left the East almost 14 years ago, it is fair to say I left behind more baggage than the United lost property office. Facing your past while on vacation with the fam = good times!
But they were good times. First, we visited my surrogate family in New Jersey, then took our daughter to camp in Maryland with one of our pilgrim friends, and continued to Charlottesville for my own private 30-year reunion. This left a whole week alone with our son, who often complains about lack of attention due to his Diva-like sibling. Guess what? He had absolutely nothing to say to us other than “When will we get to a place with good wi-fi?” At first, this really upset me, but I realized I had to accept things at his level. I was crushed that he didn’t gravitate to all the cool inventions of Thomas Jefferson when we visited Monticello with you, but thrilled that he got to spend time with his tech genius cousin, Matt, who I believe is his new idol. Even more surprising, it was my husband, Ted, who became a fan of TJ, taking pictures of us at the Rotunda and willingly taking a side trip to Poplar Forest, Jefferson’s country retreat.
The dynamic changed dramatically when we picked my daughter up from camp. There was no more silence. While in Maryland, I got to visit with a cousin I never get to say more than five words to at family events, usually funerals these days. Next, I had to make peace with my previous life and first marriage, which involved the restoration of the Whitehaven Hotel. My husband and children toured the place with my good friend, also named Jefferson. I hadn’t seen the hotel or Jefferson in 14 years and it was an experience as joyful as it was unsettling. I was part of the project for almost seven years and the last time left, I did not know that I wouldn’t be returning. After I re-married, I was sure I would never see this place again. And there it was, not only finished, but mellowed with 14 years of wear. Not unlike us.
Moving on. Luckily, our pilgrim friends, Amy and Ken, were in the area to pull us back out of the past with their beautiful daughters. The kids were split on visiting the shedding crabs, with my daughter wanting to adopt one and my son screaming in horror and running to the nearest boat (Bless you, Morgan for the save).
In another “worlds collide” moment, we got to meet up with you in Philadelphia and make a connection with dear friends from our adoption agency, whose daughter is the same age as ours. It was a testament to how well everyone knows me: you bought us tickets to Independence Hall and Chris and Kathy brought me fudge from the shore. It is always good to connect your friends.
Exhausted but not done yet, I headed Austin to meet up with fourteen of our pilgrim sisters (plus one brother) at the Edel Gathering, which was not so much a women’s conference as a reunion for us. Happily raiding my husband’s wine collection for an impromptu hospitality suite, we all got to celebrate our two sisters who took second and third place in the crazy shoe contest! Everyone will have their favorite memories but mine was when our group got up on stage to perform “Dancing Queen” during the karaoke set. Truly we have more power as a group, even if we weren’t choreographed (a nod of respect to you, Gangnam Style cheerleaders).
When the trip was finished, I realized I had visited most of my past and survived. It was all about connection, closure, and joy. We all noted that this weekend was the gospel of the Transfiguration, one our most memorable masses on Pilgrimage. I was so moved hearing these words again with our sisters in a whole new context: It is good that we are here. That sums up my whole trip.
My last night, I got to stay with a former neighbor in Austin, the one with whom we were supposed to have travelled. Everything came together when she handed me a special present from the trip, a rosary from Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona! It made me realize that it can be easy to doubt your path when everything seems to be going wrong. When you are able to let go, trust, and take what you are given, you will be rewarded in surprising ways. Time and presence are tremendous gifts. Clearly, this was the trip we were meant to take.
Wishing you safe travels out of Austin this morning,