File this under poignant moments evoked during trips. While away this week, I learned my girlfriend Susan lost her brother, Stephen. A sweet, smiling guy he was, among those plus five or ten siblings in our supersize Catholic families. No loss is easy, but it’s especially tough with brothers and sisters.
Susan Chaffee was my first good friend. From kindergarten through high school, we found our animated banter mutually attractive. As mischievous but (mostly) sensible neighborhood explorers, our territory expanded way beyond parental limits, from Down City, up the East Side, along the Providence River banks. We played sandlot ball, Rat Patrol, went swimming, danced in our tiny bedrooms, climbed trees, spied on people, escaping danger, real or imagined, always returning safely by dinner time. Toddling home with me one day after school, she was crying, unsure why. When we arrived, my mom calmed her down and gave her a cup of tea. A five year old. Tea. That was my mom, tea could soothe any downtrodden soul. Tears dried. Spirits lifted.
Sixty plus years later, we still buckle in laughter at the sight of each other, knowing it will always be a good time. Kindred spirits we remain, miles apart yet parallel personalities, overscheduling our days, McGuyvering our way through dinner parties both planned and impromptu, yet able to pull out hearty, festive gatherings for family and friends. We’ve walked along Matunuck Beach wearing sweaters to fend off the chill, in bare feet to embrace the Atlantic. Our hearts outsize our pocketbooks but we freely share resources of money, time, personal belongings, pitching in whatever grit is needed when called upon. And we both absolutely love being moms.
Last time I visited her in Providence, I entered her guest room, dropped my bag and jaw together, as there sat a photo of 4 year old me with my father. Susan had seen it a few years before, asked me for a copy, then had it framed at my bedside along with a chalkboard welcome greeting. Add a cup of tea, late night chats, bottle of wine, a barefoot beach, endless laughter, a generous, fun loving spirit ~ you get the picture of Susan, my uniquely gifted, lifelong friend.
Fast forward to this week, I’m roaming the streets of Bratislava… stop right there. Bratislava? Did I ever even dream I’d be here? Yet, there I was, striding the meandering, hilly walkway on a blue sky day, up to the castle overlooking its bustling domain on an exquisite scene below. The Danube. Our Avalon Envision ship docked cityside. Countless rooftops, church spires, trees small and tall, playgrounds, bridges connecting communities and foreign neighbors. Someone mentioned how refreshing a beer would be at the top. The Northern accent caught me off guard. Beeah. Jackie. My brother. Exactly how he’d say it. I immediately filled with sadness, missing him so much, his loss still fresh from last year. Then I did what I trained myself to do when these moments seize me. I stop. Close my eyes. Take a deep breath, remembering how we made time for each other in our busy adult lives. The memories we made. His cackling giggle. Irish jokes. Dunkin coffee. A few beeahs. I breathe again till the comforting recollections give way to peace. I wipe my tear. Exhale. Smile.
I live for jetting off to new places, packing in as many stops as time will allow, maximizing all cultural immersions possible. It’s perpetually uplifting, educational, and simply fun, especially the people connections, making new friends along the way. In the frenzy of trains, planes, taxis, and wanderings, I never forget how lucky I am that work is joy. It’s truly a blessed life. For that and more, I am perpetually thankful.
Today, I’m cherishing these gifts. Friends. Brothers. Travel. Grateful and smiling.