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Friday, February 1, 2013

A Walk in the Park, Losing my Son and a Cardinal's Hug...

There's nothing like walking in Central Park...
One of the many joys of parenthood, at least for me, is traveling with my family. Sure, there are the laughs, the fun of experiencing new places and things (and restaurants!), and the bonding time together that everybody enjoys. But, believe it or not, I also like the fights, the whining and the crying (including my own when I don’t get to do what I want!) and the occasional tantrums, which with three young children (and a self centered dad!), no trip would be complete without. (Although, the fighting, whining, crying and tantrums would not make my list of the greatest joys in life, especially at the time they are happening)

But, most of all, I enjoy the unity and love we share, when our focus is off of ourselves and, instead, on one another (at least more than usual and not including those under six, or nine, or twelve). In fact, I think traveling helps augment and enrich the “family experience” more than the grind of everyday life, where we often get so caught up with running around to baseball and soccer practices, dance rehearsals, meetings, deadlines and chores that we lose track of what's important; like just spending quality time with each other.

We got a chance to experience the highs and lows of family travel during a recent weekend trip to New York City to celebrate my eldest daughter’s 12th birthday, which you might call a pretext, since my wife and I don’t need much prodding to want to go to the Big Apple.

In fact, when my brother lived in Manhattan for about ten years, we went up to see him several times. And, even when he moved to L.A., but, as an actor, was commuting to NY on a regular basis, we planned a couple of trips to coincide with him.  Also, when my wife celebrated a milestone birthday several years ago (I won't say which), we went up with friends and had a terrific time. 

Yet, this was the first time we take the kids, and, considering the exorbitant costs involved, we needed a good excuse this time around.

Still, regardless of the expense, the kids not being able to see snow, which they were desperately hoping for, besides a small pile around a tree in Central Park on the last day we were there, me losing my son (twice), the bitter cold weather and my younger daughter getting car sick on the cab that took us to JFK, and if you've ever been in a NYC taxi, you don't need to ask why, it was an amazing trip.

The interesting thing, as I reflected on our short getaway, or "holiday," as my wife's brother-in-law, who is British, might say, is that we all enjoyed it for different reasons. 

Somber memories for me...
Don't get the wrong impression, while we all enjoyed spending time together, going to Broadway to watch Mary Poppins (which, by the way, was outstanding), seeing Rockefeller Center, riding the subway system, visiting the September 11th Memorial and the Museum of Natural History (both a first for us), seeing the Statue of Liberty (from the mainland) and hitting our favorite eateries (Balthazar, Mercer Kitchen and Union Square Coffee Shop among them), for my wife, probably the best part of the trip was going for a couple of morning runs in Central Park, and then stopping at Starbucks for some coffee, like a true New Yorker, on the way back to our hotel.

For the birthday girl, it was all about shopping in Soho (All of a sudden, she's a shopper!) and going to the Magnolia Bakery for some cupcakes. For my 8-year-old, the highlight by far was going to the American Girl Doll store and purchasing Saige (with her own money!). For my son, it was all about going to Toys-R-Us in Times Square, which is where I lost him for the first time.

I imagine that now is a good time for an explanation.  He was tailing behind me and I kept looking back over my shoulder and telling him to hurry up and then, all of a sudden, I looked back and he wasn't there. I rushed to where he was and he was nowhere in sight.  My heart sank, as I quickly thought about the enormity of trying to find a lost little boy, who is in a strange city, in a store packed to the rafters with shoppers from around the world.

It was one of those moments, where everything goes into slow motion except your heart, which wants to beat out of your chest.  As people say, time indeed stands still. I was truly scared and immediately started praying for God to help me find him.

As my anxiety escalated, my wife and daughters, who were ahead of me, showed up, probably after noticing the desperation in my voice, as I called out my son's name.  I went up to a store employee and told her my son was lost. Soon, there were several store employees around us, who started communicating on their walkie-talkies, as my wife shot off to another area of the store, where we had just been.  It was probably the longest three or four minutes (if that long) of my life.

Then, I saw my wife walking towards me with him in her arms.  He was crying. It was if God turned on my C-PAP machine, and I could finally breathe again; what a euphoric feeling.  Unfortunately, it wouldn't be the last time I lost my son that weekend!

I really should have waited for the guy to move...
Anyway, to get back to my story, for me, the best part of the trip came on the last day. We went to morning Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. But, as we soon realized, this wasn't just like the other times we had attended Mass at St. Patrick's, with its magnificent architecture and rich history, which dates back to the mid-19th century, in the past.  The unexpected thrill was getting to hear Mass celebrated by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, probably the best known and beloved Catholic Bishops in the United States.

I know, I know; we don't go to Mass because of the priest.  We go to Mass because of the Eucharist, the Word of God and to worship the one true God of the universe.  Still, I couldn't help the excitement when my wife pointed out that he was listed as the celebrant in the program and saw him processing in, as a glorious and powerful choir sang at the far end and to one side of the altar. 

I must say, there are some people that are great speakers and there are others that were born to speak.  Like a good Irishman, Cardinal Dolan, who is the Archbishop of New York City and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is definitely the latter.

While the message of his homily centered around the Gospel reading on the Wedding at Cana, where Jesus, at the insistence of His Blessed Mother, performed His first miracle, the good natured priest managed to incorporate Martin Luther King Jr's birthday, his recent trip to Molokai, a Hawaiian Island where lepers were sent and Sts. Damian and Marianne Cope cared and treated them, the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the despair that many of us feel when we think of all the obstacles to our faith in our nation and the hope in the God of change, all in a flawless and coherent discourse that left me in awe, he started his talk with some words on the death of his childhood hero, Hall of Fame great, Stan Musial.

Stan "The Man" Musial...
Having grown up in St. Louis, he said he first met "Stan the Man," as he was known, when Dolan was ten years old.  Musial apparently rustled his hair and called him "slugger," which left a lifetime impression on him.

As Dolan got older and became a priest, they became friends.  He said Musial was a lifelong devout Roman Catholic, who tried to go to Mass and receive communion on a daily basis.

When the Archbishop was appointed to the College of Cardinals by Pope Benedict XVI last year, Stan Musial sent him an autographed St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap and told him that now he could wear a "real red hat."

And, when Musial's wife of 71 years, Lillian, whom the legendary player met when they were both 15-years-old at St. Paul's Catholic Church in Daytona Beach, Florida, died last May, Dolan attended the wake, and said he knew the great ballplayer's time was soon to come.

He recalled an anecdote, that he loves to tell about a time when he went to lunch with Musial about twelve years ago.  Dolan asked him, "So, Stan, tell me, in today's game with artificial turf, a juiced up ball and shorter distance fences, how do you think you would do?"  Musial paused for a moment and then answered, "I don't know.  Today's ballplayers are pretty good.  But, I think if I were playing today, I'd hit about .275."  This was from a guy who had a lifetime batting average of .331, was a three-time National League MVP, won seven batting titles, participated in 24 All-Star games, hit 475 home runs and was a first ballot Hall of Famer in 1969.

Dolan said, "Stan, what do you mean?  Don't you think that you're selling yourself just a bit short?"  Without a hitch, Musial answered, "But, I'm 80-years-old!"

The entire church burst into laughter.  What a special treat it was for my family to hear Mass from Cardinal Dolan. 

However, it gets better.  At the end of Mass, the procession went out, as they came in, through the center aisle, but then, as we were putting on our coats and collecting our belongings, I looked up and noticed the altar boy that carries the crucifix that leads the procession was walking up my aisle and up towards the front of the church again.  I looked back and I start seeing priests walk behind the crucifix and then I looked back even further and see that Cardinal Dolan, with his bigger than life smile and laugh, is coming around and greeting people.  I start taking pictures, although in my haste, and having just gotten my first iPhone, I apparently put it on video instead of picture.  I was taking five second videos instead of pictures!

A Cardinal's hug... 
And, wouldn't you know it, he comes straight to my family and starts talking to my younger daughter, who was already feeling ill (before the cab ride) and had slept through the entire Liturgy, so Cardinal Dolan turned his attention to my son, who my wife was carrying, "I think I heard you singing.  Was that you singing?"  My son smiled, and the jovial Cardinal hugged him.  As the MasterCard commercials said, it was "priceless."  Unfortunately, while I was still snapping away, my iPhone was still on video.  I missed the "money shot," as we say in news.  All I was able to capture was a two or three frame out of focus video.  Shoot me!  Oh, well.

After Mass we went to breakfast and then went walking in Central Park, where my son spotted a pile of old snow underneath a tree and started playing with it, as my wife and younger daughter went to climb one of the many boulders in the park.  As I sat and wrote some thoughts about the Cardinal's words for this blog, I looked to the tree where my son was playing and little David Copperfield was at it again!  He completely vanished from my sight.

My older daughter, who was with me, and I split up and started looking for him around a toddler playground; nothing.  I started getting that same sinking feeling that the captain of the Costa Concordia probably got and had felt only a few days earlier at Toys-R-Us.  Again, I started calling out his name and my wife showed up.  I could see it in her face, "Again?  Really?"  As a co-worker who I told the story to afterwards said, "Your wife must really be in love with you!"  Thanks a lot!

Anyway, after a few tense moments, my wife spotted him playing in another area of the park nearby.  You really have to keep an eye on small children.  They are elusive little suckers!

As I look back at our trip and the many adventures (and misadventures!) we shared, I can't help but think about the jingle that the family in Disney's Carousel of Progress sings, "These are times.  These are the best times of your life."  Therefore, we might as well enjoy them; the good, bad and uggly...


RAnn said...

Sounds like a great time; my family and I are considering a New York trip this summer.

Welcome to the Catholic Blog Directory. I'd like to invite you to join other Catholic bloggers for Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnvial, a weekly gathering where Catholic bloggers share their best posts with each other. This week's host post is at

Carlos Espinosa said...

New York is spectacular. It was too much for the 3 and 1/2 days we were there but we enjoyed every minute.
Thanks, for the invite. I would love to submit my posts.
I just need to figure out how to do it.
God bless.