In the summer following my first year of law school, I had the unique opportunity to spend 6 weeks in London taking classes as part of the school’s Summer Abroad program. It was a true highlight of my life, the chance to immerse myself in the English culture (albeit for a month and a half), to experience aspects of the city that most tourists miss out on, and to truly be free to explore the country and the continent as a whole. The best summer of my life? Without a doubt.
I was reminded of that summer of 1998 the other night as I watched the movie version of “Les Miserables.” During the summer abroad, I was lucky enough to see countless stage productions. In fact, I would venture to estimate that I saw almost 20 shows during the 6 weeks I was there. And of course, no London theater-going experience would have been complete without a viewing of Les Mis in the city in which it first gained international prominence.
That summer the show was playing at the Palace Theater, I believe, and when I think of Les Mis I think of that summer and that theater and, more specifically, a picture of me standing in front of the theater. I’m wearing jeans and a dark green sweater, a hand in my pocket and a smile on my face. That picture was taken the very first day that I was in London, a few days before school began, and the whole summer was still ahead of me.
What makes that picture, and thus the thought of Les Mis so nostalgic for me, was the person behind the camera when the picture was taken.
From a very early age, my parents made sure that my brother and I experienced the joys of travel and seeing far off places. All across the USA and into Europe we travelled. So when I got to London, I was already somewhat of a world traveler, having been to London and Europe twice before. But I had never travelled by myself before, never flown on a plane by myself before, and never stayed in a hotel room by myself before. The idea of flying 11 hours to London by myself was daunting and I was looking for someone to go with me.
My parents couldn’t come because they were already going to be in Europe, having booked a cruise that would begin a week before I had to leave and would end in London a few days after classes began. My brother couldn’t come because he was going to a wedding in Rhode Island with a girlfriend. So I was going to have to face going alone, until I came up with a great idea.
I asked my best friend to come with me—my grandmother. At the time, she was 75 years old and going strong. A world traveler from before I was born, my grandmother and grandfather had been, seen and done it all, by plane, by train, by boat and by Concorde. When my grandfather passed away in 1997, it didn’t slow her down. Who better to come to London with me than her?
I asked her if she would come with me and of course she said yes. An 11 hour flight to spend two nights in London before I started class and she came home, alone? She didn’t give it a second thought. Who goes to London for a long weekend? She does…
So off we went and the first day we explored. The first stop was the West End theater district and the then-home of Les Mis, and the picture was taken. Of course my excitement level was skyrocketing with the promise of the summer abroad and I wanted to go and do and run and eat and see and live. My grandmother kept up with me every step of the way. We saw theater, we ate who-knows-what and we did it together. For a family as close as mine and as immersed in each other’s lives as we are, the chance to spend one-on-one time with her was indeed something special.
My grandmother is now 89 years old and will be turning 90 in October. She has definitely slowed down a bit and has had some health problems over the past year, but she still tells anyone who will listen how much she has to live for. Her great-grandchildren especially. As time has gone by her memory has suffered some lapses and she may not remember the long weekend we spent in London together, but every time I see Les Mis on stage or the film, I hear the music, or I see any publicity for it, I think back to that picture of me from 1998 in London in front of the Palace Theater, and the wonderful person who took that picture and the once in a lifetime journey the two of us took together.
I have said it many times before and if you have been religiously following my posts these past few years, you know that I am a strong advocate for making life about experiences. Life would not be worth living if it weren’t for the experiences that we have. The people we know, the trips we take, the events we witness; whatever it is that brings you joy and happiness, the goal must be to fill your life with these experiences. My summer in London was amongst the best experiences in my life and the chance to travel with my grandmother, who had by then already lived a full and wonderful life, was an experience that has made my life so very fulfilling.
Interestingly enough, one of my daughter’s favorite experiences (granted she is only 7) involves my grandmother, her great-grandmother. Even up to a few years ago, grandma was still doing a little bit of travelling. A family trip to Las Vegas was in the “cards” (pun intended) and off we went. By that time, grandma was 86 or 87, I would expect, and the thrill for her was sharing the room with her great-granddaughter. I know that grandma doesn’t remember that trip very well, or that she spent the weekend in the same room with her oldest great-grandchild, but if you ask Brooklyn, she will tell you about the foul smell in the room caused by a leaking toilet and that when she and GG had to move rooms, GG left her nightgown on the hook in the bathroom. Brooklyn was probably only 4 or 5 at the time, but this was one of the highlights of her life.
You never know when a life enriching moment is going to happen; best to take advantage of them. They make life worth living.
If you have an experience that is memorable and special to you, I would love to hear about it. Please put a comment to the blog post and tell me about it. I would really appreciate it.