Thursday, July 16, 2009

France: The Journey


Karen, who has recently lost a beautiful son, suggested that I write a bit about Chicago Son. Her idea is a timely one, as I am just approaching that place which some assured me I might find, the place in which the memories are occasionally and in some ways consoling. And I am in no frame of mind yet to address the issues raised by the Wedding Reception post and comments. So a little bit, here and there . . .

One of Chicago Son's best gifts to us was France and, even better, his French family. First, the journey there:

When he was in 10th grade, a team from
School Year Abroard visited his school and he became entranced with the idea of spending the next year in France. He had been studying French since first grade, and the summer camp where he had by that time become an employee welcomes a large influx of international counselors every year, so he was well primed for adventure. His joy when the acceptance letter arrived in April ~ a couple of weeks after it had been expected, so we were on pins and needles with the waiting ~ was something to see. By the end of the summer he was packed, his suitcase containing a beautifully carved display box he had made for his soon-to-be French mother (I have one just like it), and off with his father to Providence, where my sister-in-law and her husband live. The plan was to make a college visit to Brown University, our alma mater, on September 11, 2001, and to fly out of Logan (the Boston airport) with the school group on September 12.

Needless to say in this blog, plans change.

Chicago Son and the Quiet Husband did make it to Providence, after a wide detour around New York City, and spent an eerily quiet September 12 on the Brown campus before returning home. No one knew what to do. There were four young people from his high school who had been on the first leg of journeys to France and Spain when the planes hit, and they all enrolled and tried to catch up in the classes that had begun two weeks earlier at their home school. Emails came from the SYA office almost daily as the organization scrambled to re-group.

And . . . about twelve days later, the same group of about 40 young people gathered at JFK and boarded an Air France plane to cross the Atlantic. That time, I was one of the drivers (we went with another dad and his son), the Quiet Husband having taken time off from work two weeks earlier. It was not easy, dropping our children off for an overseas flight and a year abroad less than two weeks after 9/11, but nearly every family did it. We did not want to let the evil and ugliness of terrorism cow us or deter our children from their eager embrace of the world and the variety of people and experiences it holds out to us.

Would I do it again? Would I not only permit, but encourage, a seventeen-year-old son to live away from us for a year, had I known that that he would be gone only a few years later? I like to think that I would. I like to think that I would still have urged him to reach for his life, to soak it all up, to immerse himself in the goodness and joy of this world, even if, and perhaps especially if, we had known. Because we never do know, not in any single second, what the next one will bring. Carpe Diem. Always.

12 comments:

Cynthia said...

God, you've got courage.

Karen and Joe said...

Thank you for sharing that story. I really like seeing who your boy is. An adventurer, open to life and people and experiences. You were all courageous to step out at that uncertain time, but like you, I would do all of it and more if I had known how short the time would be. No regrets about college tuition, family vacations, or money invested in musical instruments that would soon become silent. I am grateful for every single moment.
I hope you can tell us more and more about him as time goes by. I love hearing about your beautiful son.

Gannet Girl said...

Karen - you are so right.

We travelled a great deal with our kids when they were young, and were occasionally criticized for spending so much money on trips that they would not remember. Why don't you wait till they're older? friends would ask. Thank God we didn't.

Betsy said...

20+ years ago a mom whose 19 y.o. son had just died said to me that they'd not raised him with any faith tradition because they figured he could explore that for himself when he grew up. She paused for a long time and then said, "We never knew he wouldn't grow up." She taught me more about being a parent in that moment than she could've ever known...and your post today reminds of it again. Thanks for sharing this story.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Thank for this story. I found it inspiring . . . just to be reminded that it's good to take chances and not assume we'll get another opportunity.

Lisa :-] said...

I would have been petrified to let my son (if I had a son...) board a plane so soon after 9/11. You were insanely brave, and Chicago son reaped tremendous benefit from that.

Of course you made the right choice. And you would make it again. You strike me as one who would always want her children to live lives as rich and full as possible, every minute. No matter how many minutes there are...

Jennifer said...

It will be redundant to the other posts, but how courageous you were.... I love hearing about your son, and hearing your own voice as mother emerge in a different way as you share the memories. Thank you for this gift.

karengberger said...

I'm so glad that you supported his desire to follow his dream, in the face of the fear that was everywhere at that time. What a great message to him, and a gift, to allow him to live away from you for a year.
Coincidentally, Gregg and I were also slated to take off for Europe on September 12, 2001 - to belatedly celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. I didn't have the courage to reschedule the trip, as you had for your son's benefit...which is just what the terrorists wanted. Hats off to you!

Jennifer said...

I loved reading this post about your beautiful son.

Rev SS said...

"Because we never do know, not in any single second, what the next one will bring. Carpe Diem. Always" ~ Amen!

Jodie said...

Yeah. Carpe Diem!

Ellyn said...

You were beyond being a wonderful Mother.
You and your husband were the very best parents any child could have had.
I am always incredulous that you can bring your thoughts, feelings, emotions to a level that I can empathize with.
Thank you for your insight.