For the last few weeks, bedtime has been a race. And now, at last, Missy has pulled up smiling at the finish line.
A trip around the world can do that.
No, we’re not defying coronavirus restrictions and dashing through international borders one step ahead of the health authorities. Heck, at the rate baseball has been going, even state borders are starting to look like an adventure worthy of Indiana Jones.
But Missy’s bedtime reading has opened a lot of doors over the years. We’ve journeyed through Middle-earth. We’ve battled evil at Hogwarts. We’ve traveled the stars with Madeleine L’Engle and solved mysteries with Ellen Raskin. And since Missy’s online activity group has been “visiting” a lot of countries lately, the time felt right to introduce her to an old friend.
Once again, it was time to travel with Phileas Fogg.
If you’re not familiar with “Around The World In Eighty Days” – is there anyone left? – you have quite the journey ahead of you. I was a kid on summer vacation with my family when I first read Jules Verne’s tale of the incredibly precise 19th-century Englishman who accepts a 20,000 pound wager to circle the world in the stipulated time without being a single minute late. It’s a short novel and one that moves as quickly as its characters as they jump from trains and steamships to sailing craft and elephants, efficiently racing the clock (and a misguided detective).
Like a lot of older books, some bits age better than others. But the story still draws like a magnet because the central idea still works.
No, not the idea of circling the globe in under three months. Anyone with access to an airline ticket and a passport – a combination which, admittedly, has become a piece of fiction itself lately – can travel at a pace that leaves Fogg and his friends gasping in the dust. But the challenge behind Fogg’s wager is still part of us today.
Namely, the idea that with enough planning, even the unexpected can become predictable.
At this stage of 2020, the idea sounds almost humorous. Anything we may have expected on New Year’s Eve has surely gone through the paper shredder as we’ve grappled with seven months of upside-down events. It’s always hard to grasp how little control we truly have, but 2020 seems determined to remind us of that constantly … with a Louisville Slugger, if necessary.
The thing is, Fogg’s friends back home seem to have already absorbed the lesson. From the start, they remind him of all the things that could go wrong – breakdowns, bad weather, local violence and more. And in a way, they’re right. Fogg’s ability to take advantage of the good and improvise around the bad gets absolutely derailed on the final lap, disrupted by the one complication he hadn’t foreseen. Disaster looms.
It sounds like a pandemic lesson. And I hope it is. Because – spoiler alert! – that’s not the end of the story.
There’s a second complication. A positive one that gives Fogg more time than he thought he had. But without his planning, he would never have been in position to take advantage of it. And without learning to recognize and return the love of others, he would never have seen the opportunity at all.
And that is the lesson we need to learn.
Not to give up. Not to say “Nothing we do will make any difference.” But to plan as best we can, improvise where we have to, and recognize that ultimately it’s our compassion for the people around us that will get us through this. When we look out for each other instead of grasping desperately at normal, we win – because every one of us is “each other” to someone else.
Like all adventures, this will leave us changed. But it can be a change for the better.
Maybe, just maybe, a little Fogg can help us see clearly.