” IF IT IS TUESDAY IT MUST BE BELGIUM” AND WHEN PLANS GET INTERRUPTED

TRIP HIGHLIGHT – AUDIENCE WITH POPE JOHN XXIII

This post started out as a continuation of the previous one giving more details of my trip to Europe with nine friends in 1959. We were part of a preplanned tour that offered a number of options. There was the option to start off the tour by flying to Europe, but knowing how busy we were going to be with the end of our senior year at Cornell’s nursing school, plus the marriage of two close friends, plus prepping for and taking the RN exam – all before we left – we felt travel by ship would provide the rest we needed as we prepared ourselves to conquer Western Europe.

My writing plans got side tracked when I made an unexpected trip to the emergency room of our local hospital. That was two Saturdays ago. I spent that night and most of Sunday in the hospital. It was an attack of atrial fibrillation. Some folks when they get Afib don’t even know they have it and it is only in making a doctor visit for some other reason that it is discovered. I fall into the group that knows immediately that something is wrong and an emergency room visit is imperative. This was my second attack – the first was six months ago. It followed an amazing and very special five day visit in New York with our son Jerry , his wife Teresa, granddaughter Lilly , and other wonderful friends and family members. This most recent attack also came on without warning, when I was feeling great.

The unexpectedness of both these attacks was a reminder to appreciate the uniqueness and gifts of each day. Who knows what is around the corner? Reflect on the past – but don’t dwell on the past; enjoy the present, ; and plan with curiosity and hope for the future – being well aware that future plans may be rudely interrupted.

The trip to Europe was a blast. But maybe in retrospect a bit much following our very demanding senior year at Cornell. Perhaps we all would have been better off just going to the beach and vegging out and catching up on missed sleep. I say that now , some sixty one years later, but I don’t think anyone could have convinced us to do differently back then. We thought the world was ours to embrace and meet head on.

It was an amazing trip, and since it was a tour, we didn’t have to worry about making arrangements. I can’t remember now how many countries we covered – I think it was nine but it may have been eleven. A jam packed travel itinerary was very popular back then, hence the saying, ” If it is Tuesday it must be Belgium.” Sometimes we moved so quickly between countries it was a bit hard to be sure what country we were in. Two of the countries we visited were San Marino and Monaco. Small countries – I am not sure that we spent a whole day in each but when the tour company was promoting its itinerary, it included all the countries whose borders we crossed. The number of countries visited was supposedly a big selling point. We were the youngest members of the tour and though we socialized with everyone, we were our own self contained group.

Though some of the trip with the passage of time has become a blur – two countries stand out – France and Italy. I loved Rome, and its surroundings, and its history for the ages. And with my Catholic roots there was so much to draw me in. John XXIII was Pope at that time and as part of the tour we got to have an audience with him. – along with several hundred other tourists. Since it was summer time the Pope was at his summer residence, Castle Gandolfo in a town of the same name about 16 miles from Rome located on the Alban Hills overlooking Lake Albano . I remember it as a beautiful area. We were ushered into the papal residence to a reception hall which easily fit the excited tourists. No one was more excited than me. I truly felt that John XXIII was God’s representative on earth. I hoped that I could get close enough to him. l need not have worried. There was a roped off pathway through the hall. Shortly the Pope arrived and traversed this pathway. I think I was no more that five feet from him as he slowly walked by blessing and smiling at the assembled throng. It was for me a very powerful spiritual moment.

Our time in Paris is another potent memory. The Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Follies Bergere, shopping, etc. These all were very memorable. But my sweetest Paris memory is of a cablegram that I got from my parents. Though we all strove to forget the RN exam we had taken prior to starting on our European adventure, as it got closer to the time for results to come out, we had a hard time totally banishing exam thoughts from our minds. We all felt pretty good about the exam but there was the added pressure that Cornell grads had a history of acing the exam and we didn’t want to change that trajectory. Once we checked into to our Parisian hotel there was a little wait as our rooms became available. To pass the time I was walking around with a friend checking out the lobby. Suddenly I heard a bellboy calling out my name – saying there was a cablegram for me. My parents had followed our trip by the itinerary and maps but they had made no attempt to contact me. It was from them. I was concerned there was something wrong. And then I realized the cablegram was addressed to Margaret McCloskey RN. That was my Dad’s touch. It was so special to get my RN exam results in that way.

These past days of doctor visits, hospital visits, blood tests and golf playing have gone by quickly. And they have put an emphasis on my spiritual life. I have been thinking of those moments when I have truly felt God’s presence. One of those powerful times, as I have said, was the audience with John XXIII in 1959. In reflecting on this blog I find the following John XXIII quote to be very meaningful, ” If God created shadows it was to better emphasize the light.”