In the summer of 1984, my wife and I bravely decided to bicycle from London to Athens. Armed with panniers, maps, guidebooks and an itinerary rivaling Odysseus’s, we pedaled off into seven weeks of expected bliss.
Thirty-five days of hills, heat, storms, flat tires, diesel exhaust and bee attacks later, we limped into Bari, Italy — snapping at each other like terriers, but right on schedule, by God — only to realize that we’d missed the overnight ferry to Corfu.
Panicked, we scrambled aboard another ferry at the dock ... and awoke the next morning to find ourselves disembarking in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia! The next boat out wasn’t for four days.
Discussing our options at the top of our lungs over muddy coffee, we were approached by a pair of rumpled American tourists. After listening to us fuss and fume, the husband drawled: “You guys need to relax. We rented a little car a month ago, and we’re just drivin’ around without a map.”
We took their advice, spending four days strolling the medieval city walls, sunbathing, eating and laughing. The trip was saved. To this day, if one of us gets into a tizzy over plans that aren’t going exactly right, all the other has to do is whisper, “Dubrovnik,” and calm is restored.
It was such a perfect summer day in 2010 when I flew out of Reagan National Airport that I never checked the forecast in Chicago, my transfer point to Dubuque, Iowa. Then, caught in a storm over O’Hare, the pilot announced that the plane in front of us was trying to land; if it landed, we’d be next. By the time we were on the ground, I would have missed my connecting flight, had it not already been canceled.
I explained to gate attendants how important it was for me to get to Dubuque, but with just two flights a day, I knew the chances were minimal. Plan B was to meet my aunt and uncle, already in Iowa, at a different airport. We went with Plan C: David and Barbara, my brother and his wife, who had my mom with them, had already driven past Chicago but turned around to pick me up.
We drove to the riverside bluffs and then took one last turn. Suddenly there below us, on the other side of Mom’s beloved Mississippi River, was Dubuque.
I leaned over, gently touched the urn and quietly said, “Mom, you’re home.” Tears filled all of our eyes as we crossed the bridge and, for the last time, arrived together as a family.
That missed connection on the way to my mom’s inurnment gave the gift of a memorable family moment and a lasting family unity.