As I started writing, the sunset surrounded me, the clouds were beneath me. In nine hours when this aircraft touched down, it would hopefully still be Tuesday morning in Milan. Our ten day tour of Italy barely started, but we were already running late after a delayed connecting flight. Seven teenage girls and me, off to Italy, flying Delta, finding ways to pass the time should sleep evade us.
I thought it fitting to start my writing a little early this week while I had time to think and process. Educational tours are fast paced. Once we land, I knew we’d hit the ground running to adjust to the new time zone, keeping busy until after dinner. At the airport in Milan, we would meet our Tour Director, Stefano, and the other groups that will be travelling with us through the country. But for the moment, despite leaving home ten hours before, we were on a plane waiting. Still waiting for Italy.
The mix of excitement and nerves is healthy, I think. Somehow, we all managed to fly without checking any bags, decreasing the potential of certain potential anxieties of missing luggage and toting heavy bags around the country. I’d carefully selected an outfit for each day fitting to the activities and events of that city, hoping to alleviate the worries of not having the right attire for church visits or significant walking. In truth, I was completely packed four days early; I figured I’d discover anything I’d forgotten by the time I actually departed for the airport.
But the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. We were on the runway for hours in Atlanta waiting to take off, which meant dinner was served late and it would be another hour before the lights were out, setting the mood for a peaceful night writing in anticipation of the grandeur of Italy that awaited us on the other side of a sunrise. Fortunately, we were able to get seats together. Unfortunately, my laptop, which I had been careful not to use until it was time to blog, went black after just twenty minutes. One of my girls suggested I try writing by hand. I did. It wasn’t the same.
The delay had been our first adjustment, and we went with the flow. We’d still arrive in time to meet the rest of our tour participants. The laptop was my next adjustment. The blog would have to wait, too. I glanced around the plane at my girls, some already fast asleep, others watching movies and completing word puzzles. Essentially, we were enjoying the comforts of home in cramped airplane quarters, filling the empty moments so that we’d somehow get there faster.
Seven girls and me. There’s Goldilocks, a blonde beauty, the oldest in the group already eighteen who would share a glass of red wine at our first dinner in Verona tonight. It was her first time on an airplane, and she faced it like a champ. Like Goldilocks in the fabled tale, this young lady knows who she is and what she wants. It seems right, then, that one of her best friends is here in Italy to share in the experiences. We’ll call her Moana, because she is an adventurous teen who lives for the water. I get the sense that this trip will be better for both of them because they’re together in it.
Rapunzel and Snow White come as a pair, too. Through blogging club and multiple English and Yearbook classes, I’ve witnessed their friendship change and evolve over the years. I’ve blogged about both of these girls and their ability to make me reassess life and keep me young at the same time. Rapunzel spilled coffee on her sundress on our first outing off the bus, but she didn’t let it phase her. Snow White used her gifts to kept us laughing as we traveled with a new “made you look” game.
Next, meet Smiles. Her name was dubbed by the art teacher at our school who never knew her real name. He’d never been her teacher, just saw her coming and going with friends and an ever-present smile that earned her that nickname. Smiles lives up to the name. I watched her eyes light up as we saw the arena and Juliet’s balcony in Verona. I watched her smile dance as she spooned gelato into her mouth. She must frown on occasion, but I’ve yet to see it.
Smiles always manages to get a seat next to Tinkerbell. They’re pals, too. Tinkerbell is a brunette with a passion, someone who always finds the magic in life. Her laugh is infectious. These six girls already knew each other well, but not Pocahontas. She’s a bit of a loner, making her own path, finding her way to Italy without a best friend to anchor her. Tinkerbell and I have more in common than I realized as I saw with her on the plane, watching her choices in movies and games.
This is the group of girls I chose to take to Italy, and I couldn’t have hand selected a more perfect crew. They are kind and responsible, mature when it’s required, and they have made our first day in Italy perfect despite its imperfections. When Pocahontas got overwhelmed with the mass of people and Italian-speaking vendors, Goldilocks ushered her back to the front of the line and they each returned with their own gelatos, crisis averted. When Pocahontas got locked in the bathroom after checking into our hotel following dinner, the other girls found me, I bounded up a few flights of stairs, and we got her out.
No matter how well we plan, there are always going to be deviations. I find myself tonight most incredibly grateful for my own little crisis the day before we left the States. After church, while leaving the overflowing parking lot, someone told me I had a flat tire. I pulled out of the line of hundreds of cars and parked in the only spot I could reach, the last space before the main road. Charming tried to calm me down, but it wasn’t working. I was leaving for Italy the next day. How in the world did I get a flat tire while we were in Sunday service?
It wasn’t just that the thousands of people leaving church were all passing me in my heels and dress changing a flat on the asphalt. When I packed up my classroom for the summer, I filled my car trunk with all the things I planned to store in my shed for a few months… it was all there, piled on top of the spare tire. As I threw everything from the trunk into the back seat (with force, I might add), the world around me darkened. I couldn’t see Italy, just this obstacle I didn’t plan for, and I was angry. I hadn’t gone to all the trouble of packing four days early to have this new problem hanging over my head.
Charming took the opportunity to reframe the events of the morning for me using a new lens. He told me about his time in the military, an organization made up of lots of planners, like me, where there’s a saying that no plan survives first contact. Charming explained that the military plans strategically, but when you make contact with the enemy, plans change. That doesn’t mean the military shouldn’t plan their operations carefully – it means that they must be able to adapt… and adapting is easier when there was a plan to begin with.
God knows I think in analogies, and this pep talk from Charming was providential. My laptop died, and I couldn’t write when I had planned to, but now here I am on the balcony of a third floor hotel room outside Venice, my students sound asleep in their rooms inside. It worked out anyway, maybe better than I’d planned if not different. This trip isn’t about me or my blog – it’s about Goldilocks, Moana, Rapunzel, Snow White, Smiles, Tinkerbell, and Pocahontas. It’s about seeing and savoring all that Italy has to offer in a once in a lifetime experience we are sharing in together.
No plan survives first contact. There are bound to be more delays, more dead electronic devices, more spilled coffee and overwhelming Italian crowds in the coming ten days as we traverse unfamiliar soil in famous places like Venice tomorrow and Florence on Thursday. By our last day on this tour, we’ll be touring the island of Capri, a dream I’ve had since before Goldilocks was even born, when my parents returned from their twenty-fifth anniversary trip to Italy with pictures and videos that whet my appetitive.
This is the moment. Forget struggles or structure, routines or habits. First contact is all around me. Italy. I saw the snowcapped Alps as we prepared to land. Each moment is a gift. We got our first taste of architecture and pasta today, and tomorrow will hold more adventures for us, wonders of creation we’ve yet to behold.
I got a text today from my assistant principal wondering where I was for remediation, and it felt so good to simply reply, “I’m in Italy!” Precious little else matters besides these seven girls, me, and the country we’ve chosen to conquer this summer.
I’m so grateful to Charming for inspiring me to make a bucket list that said I would go to Italy, a list I then had my students make, lists that led to this trip, this moment, on this balcony.
Buonanotte from Verona!