A Simple Beauty - My Family Travels

            I was 15 when my cousin fell in love with an Englishman. They planned the wedding and set the date for August 3, 2007. Only problem? The wedding would take place in England. I wanted to go so badly, but there was no way my family could afford to go. I was miserable for days. I’d always wanted to go to Europe, and now I had a legitimate reason to go, but I couldn’t. I knew it would hurt my parents’ feelings if I complained about not having enough money to go, so I turned to my best friend. We had owned Pal for about 6 months at that time, and I loved him so much. He really was my best friend. I loved to come home from school, go to the back yard, sit in a chair and talk to him while throwing his squeaky toy. Then, once he got tired (which took at least two hours), all 80 pounds of him would crawl up into my lap and lay there while I pet him. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time with Pal those next few weeks.

Then about a month after learning the date of the wedding, my grandparents called. Nannie and Grandpop believe that it is important that they spend time with their grandchildren before we grow up and move off, and they also feel that getting to see different parts of the world is important, so they have a tradition of taking their grandchildren on a trip once we turn 16.  And since I was about to be 16, it was time to start planning our trip. I, of course, was overjoyed when they decided to take me to Europe for two weeks. I’ve always wanted to go to Europe but didn’t believe it was possible. My high school’s Spanish club had planned a trip to Spain for those who wanted to participate. They even planned a lot of fundraisers so we could raise most of the money. I begged my parents to let me go. I looked up websites that would help me convince them to let me go. One of the most influential things I found was on Texas A&M University – Commerce’s website. The International Studies page stated “educational experiences abroad provide an excellent opportunity for students to understand other cultures, reach a better understanding of American culture, develop a positive self-concept, and function effectively in an ever changing world.” I was sure my parents would let me go after that, but they didn’t. I think that’s part of the reason I was so excited that Nannie and Grandpop were willing to take me to Europe. And I was even more excited when I realized they were planning our trip around my cousin’s wedding; I would get to go!

August 2nd was spent preparing for the wedding. We prepared the flower arrangements and set up the hotel for the wedding and reception (it looked absolutely beautiful), ate a quick lunch, and then went to Windsor castle for a tour. I was in heaven! It was so gorgeous, and I felt as though I could stay there forever. Upon finishing the tour, we walked through the gardens before heading to a restaurant for dinner. Then, we, once again, went our separate ways. The adults went to dinner, and I went with my cousins to yet another restaurant for dessert and the beginning of the bachelorette party. When they decided to go to the pubs, I went back to the hotel and called my parents.

I was so incredibly happy. I can truthfully say that I’ve never felt so at home in a strange place before, and I was eager to share that with my parents. But when they answered the phone, I knew something was horribly wrong. My dog, my best friend, Pal, was dead, and I hadn’t gotten to say goodbye. I went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in seconds.

As happy as I was in Europe and as amazed as I was by everything around me, all I wanted to do was go home. I needed to be with my parents; they understood how attached I was to Pal. But, alas, that was not going to happen. I wish I could say that my misery lessened as the trip progressed, but it didn’t. I did, however, manage to put it on a back burner and concentrate on the amazing sights and sounds all around me.

From Windsor, we traveled to London and spent a couple of days sight seeing. We took a tour of Buckingham Palace, a bus tour of London that included the Eye of London, Big Ben, the Tower Bridge, and Trafalgar Square, and ran into the British Museum. Then, we hopped on a train and headed to Scotland. When we left Scotland, we headed for Ireland, but first, we spent the night in Chester, Wales. We didn’t actually see much of it since we were only there for one night, but what we did see was gorgeous. Ireland, though, was, by far, my favorite country. I’m not sure what it was, maybe the fact that being there meant I would be home soon, but I felt like I was exactly where I wanted to be. I found a peace there – odd as it may seem. Though I’d just lost my best friend and felt as though a hole had been ripped in my heart, I found peace – a kind of steady feeling of serenity that encased my heart and made me feel better. I’m not quite sure how it happened – there wasn’t an “ahhhh” moment, I just remember staring at the beach where Paul McCartney initially wrote the song “Yesterday,” and feeling as though everything would be okay. Maybe that lake that lake is a place of inspiration. Or maybe it was just because that was the first time I’d managed to laugh since hearing of Pal’s death. According to our tour guide, McCartney originally titled “Yesterday” “Scrambled Eggs” because he had eaten scrambled eggs for breakfast. They say laughter is the best medicine, and perhaps it is, because though Pal’s death still hurt, I was able to accept it and appreciate the pure simplistic beauty of the Old World surrounding me.

The journey home was uneventful. Well, it was if you can call a missed connection and hours of waiting in line to catch another plane uneventful. My parents picked us up at the airport and gave me especially long hugs. Upon reaching home, I sat in my backyard and just stared at the grass – wishing that Pal were there to greet me. The longer I sat there, the more I realized that I hadn’t let myself enjoy Europe as much as I should have. I felt so guilty for not being with him when he died, that I had refused to allow myself to enjoy my trip. Oh sure, I expressed enthusiasm and enjoyed it outwardly, but on the inside it had barely registered; all I had allowed myself to think of was Pal and my desire to be home. Now that I was home, I couldn’t wait to go back.

And as I sat there thinking about Pal and Europe, I realized that I always wanted to be somewhere else; I was never really satisfied being exactly where I was. No matter what was going on in my life, no matter how incredible the sights around me were, I always wanted to be elsewhere. Why?  Why couldn’t I be happy right where I was? The answer was unbelievably simple. It was in my nature; it’s the nature of all humans. People are never content with what they have – no matter how good they’ve got it.

Even now, I feel myself longing to return to Europe. I can’t explain why, but something about the pure beauty of the landscape, the culture of the countries touches my heart and makes me want to be there again. I am happy with where I’m at right now. In fact, I love everything about my life. I have gotten over Pal’s death – despite not believing it to be possible, and the life I have now is one that I could only have dreamt of two years ago. But if you were to ask me where I wanted to be at any given moment, my answer, without a moment’s hesitation, would be Ireland. I want to go back to the beautiful rolling countryside, the astounding architecture, and the awesome accents. Because despite the turmoil my life was in the last time I visited, I found peace in the simple beauty around me. A beauty that touched my heart, and soothed my troubled mind. A peace that still encases my heart when I think of Europe and somehow reminds me of the purity of the love I felt for my best friend. My Pal. 

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