Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Ms. Altruist and Ms. Selfish go to Rome.

How can you describe in words the overwhelming experience of spending a week in Rome? So many sights, so many sounds, so many sensations. Too many to describe with justice, but yet, I have to try.

When I was a child, my mother first told me her dream of going to Rome. I always kept that in the back of my mind, expecting her to tell me one day that she and Dad were heading off to Italy. Her trip never took place, even though I had been to Europe several times by the time I graduated from college.

When my father retired, I assumed the time had finally arrived. Yet, when I would ask Mom when she was going to Rome, she’d say, “Your father doesn’t want to go.” When I would ask Dad when they were going, he’d say, “Your mother doesn’t want to go.” Perhaps it was too daunting or overwhelming to think about how to actually get there, where to stay, and how to deal with a different money system, language and culture? I quietly accepted the paradox, assuming that mom enjoyed thinking about her dream trip more than trying to make it come true.

My grandmother dreamed of travel as well. She wanted to visit Hawaii for as long as I could remember. Getting to Hawaii was a Quixotic, impossible dream in her younger days. She’d been the wife of a farmer and they had lived frugally. Money became less of an issue in time, but Grandma still handled the dream with kid gloves, taking it out every now and then to examine it. “Oh, I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii,” she would exclaim if someone won a trip to Waikiki on “The Price is Right.” “I’ve heard they give you a necklace of flowers as soon as you get off the plane,” she’d croon.

The closest Grandma ever came to Hawaii was eating at the Polynesian Resort luau when the family went to Disneyworld one Christmas. She was in a wheelchair most of the time, and had horrendous pain from the arthritis that twisted and crippled her fingers. The opportunity to travel long distances had vanished, leaving her clutching a dream that no longer could become a reality. Grandma passed away this year without ever seeing the land of pineapples and hulas.

Thus I became obsessed with taking my mother to Rome. Not because I’m worried about her dying anytime soon, but because I’m a product of more progressive times; I view dreams as a “to do” list. Whereas Grandma found satisfaction in simply nurturing a dream, I writhed in agony because she didn’t actually pursue that dream. I admit it; I wanted Mom to go to Rome for selfish reasons. I couldn’t bear to watch another magnificent woman in my family miss out on her dream, especially when she asks for so little, and gives so much to others. (She is the consummate altruist.) So I told her we were going to Italy, no protests allowed. She laughed and said “okay,” before she realized that I meant it.

I researched everything I could possibly research; from how to book the trip, what airline to fly, what tours to take, and where to stay. I became an internet hermit. (Which is why I stopped blogging for so long.) I ended up letting a travel agent book our air and hotel so we would could back out at the last minute if sickness or other emergencies interrupted our plans. (I told the agent what flights and hotel to book.) I found a tour company online that had excellent references. (They are affiliated with the city of Rome, so they get front of the line access to popular sites like the Colosseum and Vatican.) We booked the whole schebang, and before I knew it, we were headed to Rome. We spent six magical days in the city, one amazing day in Florence, and one picture-perfect day at San Callixto (Via Appia Antica and the Catacombs).

I am putting together a day-by-day journal for mom with all of the trip details, and I’ll post some stories here about the things we saw and did. For now, I’m going to skip the granular details. The trip boiled down to this; my mom and I shared a million wonderful moments together. We laughed, we nearly cried, we were scared, we were thrilled. I believe Mom fulfilled her life’s dream and then some. As for me, I had the privilege of watching her live that dream. Sometimes it is totally worth it, being selfish.