A week ago, Monday evening, it’s my first day back at school in Prague after a weekend with my parents in Rome, who at this point are on a plane bound for O’Hare. Sitting in my room, trying to read about theories of temporal coincidence and nationalism (as fun as it sounds), and running on minimal sleep, I suddenly get very overwhelmed by how much I miss them. As miserable as I felt, it is a great blessing to have people in my life whose absence is so marked when they leave, even if we’ve only shared a few days in the same zip code.
I wish I could say I promptly picked myself up, got out into the city and with great vigor shook off my miserableness. But more accurately, it’s taken a bit of plodding through the misery, a few familiar faces, and some well-placed reminders to start moving out of this funk.
A few of the familiar faces came via Facetime—for all my frustrations with technology, I certainly can’t fault it for this brilliant little tool! I got to wish my big brother happy birthday from my dorm room, catch up with friends enjoying their spring break, and get a view of my own backyard which is no longer covered with snow (Mom and Dad were very excited about that one).
Another big treat was getting to see a high school friend studying in France this semester.
Madeline and I probably haven’t seen each other for over a year and a half, but we got to spend a beautiful day together in Prague! She and her hostel-mates Richard and Chris enthusiastically joined in on a day of sampling local food, visiting some of Prague’s best sites, and enjoying the sun after a long hike up Petrin Hill. And, as if the world wasn’t small enough, we figured out that another student from our high school is studying here in Prague and lives in the same dorm on the floor below mine. We all enjoyed a brief Boylan reunion before I said goodbye to Madeline and ran off for the ballet Don Quixote. That’s a far cry from a bad day!
After class on Wednesday a couple classmates and I grabbed dinner at a local student restaurant and met a couple our age from Montreal doing a seven month tour of Europe and beyond. Their stories of hitch-hiking, couch-surfing, and exploration were a wonderful reminder of the opportunities that are available to us if we only recognize that opportunities appear first as obstacles. As good ole G.K. Chesterton said, “An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.”
This Friday morning myself and some twenty something of my fellow study-abroaders got on a bus. Ten-ish hours later we arrived in Krakow, Poland, a city that I fell in love with in the few short days we were there.
It might have been the pierogies, the wide bustling streets, the open square (which is really not square at all) lined with colorful restaurant fronts, the markets and the accompanying smells of dumplings and fresh flowers, the rows of amber jewelry, the street accordion player who played a tune my Dad would hum for my brother and I after dinner as kids, the smiling faces and friendly noises of clip-clopping horse-shoes and strangers saying “Dzien dobry!” I loved it. The city hummed and yet a welcome silence could be found in the frequent grassy bench-lined parks or inside the many churches.
The most comforting moment of the trip came Saturday night—we would leave the city early the next morning so I wandered out to the main square one last time. I headed in the direction of a cupcake shop we’d visited earlier where the kind server informed me that I must return for a carrot cupcake. As is typical of these tourist hubs, people trying to sell meals and souvenirs and tours (and usually wielding an umbrella) dotted the street. I chuckled as I watched a man walking five paces in front of me meet umbrella after umbrella, each time in flustered English spluttering “No thank you, no, no, really.” After he shook off a particularly insistent seller, I met even with him and smiling said, “Quite persistent aren’t they?” He seemed genuinely relieved that one, I wasn’t trying to sell him anything and two, that I was speaking English. Turns out that Tom was from a region in Northern Ireland and knew well the county of my own Irish ancestors. It was a pleasure to hear that Irish accent and part ways with a firm handshake and then a hug (because, why not? This is the Irish I speak of after all!)
Familiar faces and strange ones now not so strange, a foreign city that seems to love its people and even those who can’t quite call themselves “its people”. It was with this uplifted spirit that we then journeyed to a place whose torture and sickness is carried even in its name: Auschwitz.
And for that I really just don’t have any words.
It’s Monday night again, a week from where I sat feeling weighed down by the sadness of saying goodbye to two people I love most. Tonight there’s a different sort of weight. But familiar faces, and perhaps even some not so familiar ones are here to make the weight worthwhile.
Here’s to the things that make even these strange places a bit more like home.
‘Til next time