Once upon a time I went to England for a six week study abroad program, but this was no regular study abroad. The studying--which we did do--mostly took place before ever arriving in England, and while riding on the bus. Every other moment was absolutely and fantastically jam packed with seeing every castle, cathedral, and noteworthy speck of England, Scotland, Wales and Paris. We attended Wimbledon, the Royal Ascot races, the Henley Music festival and Rowing Regatta, Oxford, and Cambridge. We punted the cam, took a boat ride down the seine, and searched Loch Ness for Nessie. We visited everything Shakespeare, Austen, Bronte, Potter (Beatrix not Harry :), Wordsworth, King Arthur or Beatle related. We saw Les Mis, Cats, Phantom, Starlight Express, Shakespeare, and museum hopped like mad. We caved, we mined, we toured ceramic, glass, lace and wax factories. We ate English breakfasts, joined pigeons on Trafalgar square, posed with Royal guards who wouldn't acknowledge us, and paraded around in newspaper hats on the fourth of July. We rode ferris wheels and ate crepes in France, climbed the Eiffel tower and the arch of champs d'ellyse (sp?) and visited a busload of art museums and exhibits to see famous works of art that before then had only existed in books. We took in every breathtaking vista of Scotland and Wales, hiked twelve miles through the grassy hills, climbed Mt. Snowden, dined in castles, shopped at Harrods, and had tea time at the Ritz. We stayed in youth hostels, dormitories, and with host families, rode planes, trains, automobiles, and boats. We stopped at cemeteries, monuments, battlefields, and packed more history into six weeks than I had learned in a lifetime. There was nothing we didn't do or see on this trip, including a view of the Queen mum as she paraded by at Ascot with her tiny, appropriate wave. It was a summer adventure so impossibly wonderful, that it stands out as one of the highlights of my life.
But for all the amazing spectacles I beheld on that trip, there was something I missed. One big oooooops that I will now confess.
One of the great stops on our adventure was to the famous Sherwood Forest (of Robin Hood fame). I remember walking around a really pretty garden, enjoying the peace and quiet of the place. I had chosen on this particular stop to stay by myself, which was unusual. I always buddied up with at least a few other people on any given adventure, but this place was very conducive to solitude, and I chose to wander alone. It didn't take much time to see it all, so I spent a long time just sitting and absorbing the peace and quiet.
Then with plenty of extra time on my hands, I went to the gift shop to select my bookmark (the trademark token I had chosen to collect from each stop of the trip.) How cool, a bookmark from Sherwood Forest. Wow. What a place, what a place. Then it was back to the bus. As people slowly joined me in the bus (it seemed I was back earlier than everyone else) they were abuzz with what can only be described as pure wonder. Nobody could seem to get over Sherwood Forest. I kept hearing phrases to the tune of "felt like being in a dream" or "ancient" "magical" and "can you believe a place like this really exists?" And then somebody said something about mist.
Mist. I hadn't seen any mist. There definitely and most assuredly had NOT been any mist in my Sherwood Forest. And then I started to put two and two together. That garden had been awfully empty. All that peace, quiet and solitude I absorbed was perhaps a little uncanny in retrospect. Were we not a group of 30? Should I not have seen other students wandering around? I'd been so lost in thought that this hadn't even crossed my mind.
So I asked a few simple questions of my fellow tourists, and they were an interesting combination of shocked, horrified, and amused to realize I had never made it past the gardens--which surrounded the visitor's center, but served only as a sort of entry way to Sherwood Forest.
"WHAT??!!" There was an actual forest??????? Where?????? How did I miss it?????? How did you get to it?????? Why didn't anyone tell me????!!!
I had been right there at Sherwood Forest, a Royal Forest in Nottinghamshire England, the stuff of legends and the home of Major Oak--a 1000 year old tree--one of the seven wonders of the Midlands (and Robin Hood's main hideout) --and I missed it all. (Couldn't see the forest for the trees, or more accurately, for the garden beside it. Duhhhhh.)
As our bus pulled away, I felt sick. In fact I had to fight frantic compulsions to leap out the window and go back. I had missed the sight we were there to see, and there was nothing I could do about it.
I have replayed this episode many times in my mind, trying to figure out just how I missed the forest. (F-O-R-E-S-T!!! Not exactly a needle in a haystack!!) Short of being a glaring idiot, which I never thought myself to be, it seems impossible that I pulled off such a feat. I would give anything to rewind and redo, to allow myself to see the thing I thought I was seeing, but wasn't.
And then a few weeks ago, it happened again. We were cruising the waters of Fort Myers, FL by boat to explore two remote islands in the area (Captiva and Cabbage Key). Three dolphins were playing around our boat and I was thrilled with the footage I was snapping on my camera. Then somebody pointed at something very near the boat and I got my camera focused on the area they had pointed to and waited to capture that National Geographic moment in all its glory. Then sure enough, the moment came.
What I saw: A tiny rectangle of water through my little viewfinder. (aka NOTHING.)
What everyone else saw: A huge stingray jumping out of the water full spread only feet from our boat. He shot up several feet high, diving back in head first and causing a huge splash in the water and an even bigger commotion on the boat.
My brother has lived on Sanibel Island for years, is no stranger to boats and sailing and said he had never seen anything so spectacular. Some were rendered speechless, others said they had chills, and everyone understood it was a sight you are lucky to see once in your life.
Me? I missed the whole blessed display of beautiful, raw nature that took place right before my eyes, and I can't get that moment back.
Knowing I had missed whatever it was that had our boat gasping, I turned my camera to the sound of the splash, and, click! came up with this:
Talk about a day late and a dollar short.
I'm not exactly sure the point I want to make with this post. The only culprit to blame for missing these two majestic would-be's in my life is me and my focus faux paus. I was innocent and extremely well meaning in both cases, but that doesn't change the fact that when my focus was on the wrong thing (even if I didn't know it) I missed some pretty important opportunities.
And I guess I just don't want it to happen again. Not in my travels. Not in my family. Not in the day to day charm of life. I want to see the forest and the stingray (and the rainbow, and the dew drop, and the sunrise). I don't want to miss the magic in the newest Lego creation, the butterfly painted with a potato, the toothless smile, the chubby arms reaching up to be held.
When my husband read through this blogpost, he said "it's a good reminder to check your focus sometimes. But it's also important to focus on what you DID see and not worry about what you didn't see." He's always the glass-half-full guy, and he makes a good point.
On the days when we botch it, all is not lost. Because we still "went to England" and we loved "our time in Florida", whatever those might translate into on any given day.
We get several chances to choose the right focus. Maybe only once in the actual moment, but the rewind and redo comes into effect as we choose to see the glass half full and focus on the good, the joy, and the wonder in the memories and moments that make up our journey through life. And isn't the journey AMAZING!!???