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I arrived in Beijing on September 5th after a 13-hour flight, with the goal of meeting my friend Linda at the airport. We both had daughters on Team USA. I also needed to find Matt, a swim coach from Michigan and a friend of Linda and her daughter. Matt lived in Beijing and offered to let Linda and me stay in his apartment for the first week while his roommate traveled. For the second week, we had a reservation at the Continental Grand hotel within walking distance of the Water Cube.
I’d been in a few overseas airports before, but Beijing’s airport thoroughly confused me.
I eventually discovered that Linda’s flight should have already arrived at a different terminal. I frantically waited for a slow bus to take me there, feeling lost and late. With no international cell phone and not knowing Matt’s address, I had no way to find them if we didn’t connect at the airport. Could I find them at the other terminal? The worst-case scenario would require me to find a hotel for the first week.
That seemed doable, so I breathed a little easier. I found out later all the hotels were full.
Luck was on my side. Linda’s flight had been delayed. I finally arrived in the correct place and asked where arriving passengers entered the expansive terminal. I held my first of many conversations with language barriers with friendly Chinese volunteers.
I had no idea what Matt looked like, but there weren’t many young American men waiting by the arrivals. My relief when I found him felt tangible, a wave of gratitude. He reminded me of Ben as we chatted during the wait for Linda. Matt told me about his job teaching English in Beijing. When Linda arrived, we traveled by taxi to his apartment. On the way, he pointed out lush flowers lining all the main roads.
The week before the Olympics, blooming plants suddenly appeared in a colossal landscaping effort.
Matt lived in a tiny two-bedroom apartment on a high floor in a run-down residential building. From the middle of the bathroom, I could touch all four walls, use the toilet, and take a shower. The water from the showerhead drenched everything in the room and fell into a drain by the toilet. Low water pressure contributed to a sewer smell, and we kept the bathroom door closed. I didn’t mind the less-than-luxurious accommodations. Matt shared the rare gift of seeing the real Beijing.
Beijing sprawled on a grand scale.
Colorful banners hung down whole sides of tall buildings, showing Chinese Paralympians playing their sport. Every element of Beijing contrasted to other big cities I’d seen. The highways with at least six lanes clogged with bumper-to-bumper traffic. The hundreds of bicycles in sight at any one time packed together right next to vehicles. The traffic typically was much heavier because they had banned most cars and trucks from the city during the Paralympics.
Impossible to imagine.
The day after the concert, John drove Beth and me to the airport for a last-minute weekend trip to Florida. Dr. Hugo Keim, President of ChairScholars, asked Beth to speak to a large crowd of kids with disabilities and their families at their annual festival near Tampa. Dr. Keim and his wife Alicia shared with us how ChairScholars began with a single gift in 1992. It expanded to include scholarships for young people with disabilities in Florida and across the country.
The festival would be the perfect opportunity to thank them in person for Beth’s most generous college scholarship.
Under an immense white tent at the April festival, I talked to remarkable parents and thought of John. More social than me, he often said that everyone has a story. Beth wheeled up the ramp to face the crowd and talked about being open to opportunities and going for the gold, in sports and in life. She encouraged the kids to appreciate the perks of using a wheelchair, like how push handles are great for carrying bags.
And favorite shoes that last forever.
After her speech, some asked for an autograph. It turned into a teaching moment when another mom noticed her unusual grip on the pen. Others crowded around as Beth showed the mom’s daughter how she held and wrote with a standard pen.
Beth’s overseas travels during her years at Harvard concluded with her third trip to England’s World Cup in May and another 50 back bronze medal—in the absence of the three brand new S3 swimmers. Would they skip the Beijing Paralympics?
Back at Harvard, Beth planned her last Friday activity for kids with disabilities and said goodbye to the students and the new KSNAP director she’d trained. With no minutes to spare, swimming six days a week, she worried about finishing papers and studying for finals. Then, before long, glorious freedom.
Next: A Harvard Graduation!
My brand-new Serendipity Newsletter is coming soon! Signed copies of my new book, Struggling with Serendipity, are available at bit.ly/mymemoiroffer. ❤
Today, I’m taking a blog break to share a splash of serendipity with you!
I was visiting Beth in DC last weekend, and my best friend Deb went to the Wine Room in Marblehead (Ohio) with another friend, Alley. All of us had lived in Tiffin, a small NW Ohio town. Deb was the kindergarten teacher for my son Ben and Alley’s daughter Regina. Ben and Regina were the stars of the kindergarten play that year. Deb recognized Regina’s singing talent and today, Regina has a booming career as a professional singer (www.reginasayles.com).
Regina's mom, Alley, is good friends with Lisa, who owns Mutach’s Market and Wine Room in Marblehead. After talking at the Wine Room, Lisa’s fiancé, Tim, mentioned growing up in Lorain. John and I grew up in Lorain, so Deb asked him if he knew the Kolbe’s.
Tim and John were best friends in 6th grade at St. Stanislaus School when they were growing up in Lorain.
Tim’s awesome bakery, Kiedrowski’s, made the cupcakes for my daughter Maria’s wedding, and we enjoyed more of his cupcakes at Beth’s wedding shower last summer.
Small world. Sweet story, right?
But wait, there’s more! Deb mentions my new book coming out, and my April book events in Ohio. Tim says that he’d like to have a book event at the Wine Room during that time. I talk to Tim on the phone the next day about possible dates, and he’s excited about helping with publicity for it. I connect with Lisa the next day, and she is just as lovely as Tim. So, in two weeks, on Thursday, April 18 at 7 pm, I will be at Mutach’s Wine Room in Marblehead with John to talk about my new book—but the real entertainment will be Tim and John sharing their childhood antics!
Yay for serendipity!
I'm a mom on a mission to share the power of hope and connection! For signed copies of my new memoir, click BOOK. ❤ Cindy
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