Anniversary Cruise

If you paste the link below into your search window, it should take you to an article I wrote about the history of the Lambeth Conference for the Times of London’s on-line publication.

Barack Obama went to Iraq, the Anglican bishops went to Lambeth, and the Mets went on a ten game winning streak – but I was on a barge in southern France and knew nothing of all that. For the better part of ten days, I was in another world, often as narrow as the two sides of a small canal or the dimensions of a canal barge. But a small world can sometimes bring far more rewards than the larger one. The Christian faith is that the meaning of life is found in relationships and it all begins with family. Over a span of fifty years, Peg and I have acquired a small but remarkably varied family – who like each other! There’s no better place than a canal barge to find that out.

We were a total of thirteen, ranging in age from 70-something to 3 – four children, three spouses, four grandchildren – and that was the exact number the barge held. We are often together for a day or two at Christmas or Thanksgiving but never before for a whole week. Of course, we weren’t entirely on our own. There was a crew of five – captain, first mate, chef, and two stewardesses – all of them significantly younger than any of our children, and they made sure we had every creature comfort imaginable. There were two wines and two cheeses at every meal, introduced with a short description. There was a help yourself liquor cabinet and chocolates on the pillow every night. (The second night, Ben, age 6, came running back to where the rest of us were lingering over dinner to tell us, “The chocolate fairy came again!”) The last night there was a premium champagne and an anniversary cake with five candles sending up streams of sparks.

In between time, when we could drag ourselves away from the table, there was swimming in the Mediterranean (twice), bike rides off into the country, a medieval village one day and a castle another, bull games, Bastille Day-eve fireworks, and a visit to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape winery for the most carefully guided wine tasting I’ve ever attended. We also visited Arles and saw much evidence that Van Gogh had been there first. And finally we came to Avignon where we toured the papal palace (bare and boring), watched Ben and Eli ride the carousel, and enjoyed two meals, dinner one day and lunch the next, at sidewalk cafes where it wasn’t the food that mattered but the ambience. It was festival time in Avignon and actors and performers were constantly coming by to entertain us a bit and encourage us to go see their show.

We had gathered as a family first in a hotel in Montpellier where we spent the night. The next morning, Sunday, we gathered in one of the hotel rooms for a simple Eucharist. I remember discovering many years ago that when you come to the Eucharist to give thanks for God’s gifts, you are given another and greater gift. During a week such as we have had, one can almost forget that. If fifty years had led “only” to such a family as we have, it would have been enough, but there are always greater gifts ahead. Satisfied and over-satisfied as I am, I try to remember that. If heaven is better than last week, it will be well worth waiting for.

1 Comment

LibbyJuly 23rd, 2008 at 6:33 pm

It really was an amazing week, wasn’t it? Thanks again for helping to make it happen.

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