Sea Bass

My husband teaches philosophy at the university level. His area of expertise is Stoic philosophy and his “guy” is Epictetus, a Stoic Greek philosopher who lived in the first century and taught that philosophy is a way of life, not just a theoretical discipline.

I would tell you how to pronounce his name but I’m not really sure. In our family, we have always pronounced it “epic-TEE-tus” but others insist it was originally pronounced “eh-PICK-teh-tus.” Either way, anyone who knows my husband well also knows his mantra, “Some things are under our control and some things are not under our control….” The trick is to discern which is which and concentrate only on the former and let the latter go. If we spend any time at all focusing on the latter, we will only make ourselves unhappy.

Apparently Roman soldiers often carried the Enchiridion (a collection of Epictetus’s writings) into battle to help them be “stoic.” It occurred to me that when we travel it might not be a bad idea if, minus the book, we at least carried his attitude along with us. (Today it is often expressed along the lines of “we can’t control what happens to us, only how we respond to it.”)

After our 2019 trip to Europe with our 10-year-old grandson, I was aware that a few things had gone “wrong,” as always happens to a certain extent on any trip. I decided to make a list of everything I could think of, large and small.

Whoa! The list topped out at 20 things! Now to those of you not along for the ride, you might think we had a pretty unhappy time, but the exact opposite is true. We had a great trip. So how is that possible?

Here are the top items, in pretty much chronological order:

  1. My husband and I were taking the Blue Line to O’Hare airport when suddenly the subway stopped and they told us all to get out because of “a bad smell, possibly indicative of fire.” HOWEVER, while others waited cramped and uncertain outside the subway car, we chose to exit and hail an Uber ride. What a delight! Our driver was so entertaining and engaging that we gave him a $10 tip and arrived at the airport under no stress about being late for our flight.
  2. We were to meet our son and grandson in Brussels by mid-morning but a strike in France caused their train from London to be postponed, delaying their arrival time until 8 p.m. HOWEVER, our son and grandson unexpectedly met church friends on the plane. These friends are currently working in London, so had a comfortable place where they could rest. My husband and I were able to drive to lovely Leuven, Belgium, and have lunch with a professor friend of his and his family.
  3. Returning to Brussels, we got involved in a 3-hour traffic jam, the worst of our lives. (Okay, we don’t live in a big city.) I didn’t think I could come up with any positive spin on this one. HOWEVER, we didn’t get involved in an accident in our rental car, (nor in a fist fight – there was lots of yelling and honking and plenty of short tempers on display) and we were still on time to pick up our son and grandson at the train station. Thank goodness we had allowed plenty of time! Also, the parking place we finally found was right in front of a Greek restaurant. Amazing how a good, hot meal can soothe a ruffled mood!
  4. Our grandson forgot his winter coat and gloves. Yes, he actually showed up at the airport for a trip to Europe in December with no coat or gloves. His parents assumed they were in the car. (Note: never assume anything with a 10-year-old boy.) He was wearing a knit cap, at least. HOWEVER, his sister, older by 15 months, had a unisex winter coat she wore to the airport and she (grudgingly) loaned it to him for the trip. We bought him gloves. He lost those, but it was not until Edinburgh, near the end of the trip. My husband lost his gloves near the beginning of the trip. He refused to buy new gloves, but he had warm pockets.
  5. The weather. Before we left, we checked the forecast and it called for rain every single day, in every single location we would be visiting. So we packed our umbrellas and set our expectation quite low in that regard. HOWEVER, although chilly and drizzly the first two days in Bastogne, the third day was sunny and clear – very helpful in our visit to the Barracks, with lots of outdoor sights, and later that day, for the 100-vehicle military parade. (That would not have been fun in the rain.) Also, we had mild and dry weather for our tour of the Tower of London and perfect weather on our lovely day-trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. We also had beautiful, sunny weather in Chicago, on either end of the trip.
    Our final day in Bastogne was sunny and clear – no hint of the forecasted rain, one of many days on the trip where that was the case.
  6. Our son came down with quite a nasty cold on our second full day in Bastogne. Again, not too much positive here. HOWEVER, while it certainly impacted him, it did not interrupt our plans. He had a comfortable place to stay on both of the days he choose to stay in bed (one in Belgium and one in England) and my husband and I had some wonderful “skip-gen” adventures with our grandson, including a day-trip to Edinburgh, Scotland.
  7. Speaking of Scotland, when we arrived at the train station in Newcastle, they told us our train to Edinburgh had been canceled. HOWEVER, before we even had time to panic, they assured us our tickets would be honored on the next train to Edinburgh in just 30 minutes. We sat in a café drinking coffee and hot chocolate and the time passed quickly. We still had plenty of time in Edinburgh.

    My grandson’s way of saying “Enough photos of me for a while, Grammy!”

  8. Also in Scotland, my husband left his iPhone in a restaurant. We were already cutting it close to make our train back to England when my husband, steps from the platform, suddenly patted his coat pocket and said, “Where’s my phone?!” When we determined he had left it back at the restaurant where we’d had dinner, I thought, “The phone is gone for sure and we are going to miss our train.” HOWEVER, our tall friend Brendan, who had come from St. Andrews, Scotland, to be our tour guide, immediately said, “I’ll get it!” and took off on his long legs. In what seemed like no time at all, he sprinted back with the phone and handed it off just before we hopped on the train. I still marvel how that worked out. On the way back to Newcastle I kept thinking, “Did that just happen?”

    Our long-legged friend, Brendan, who saved the day with my husband’s iPhone.

  9. Because we misunderstood when certain venues would be closed due to visiting dignitaries, we missed out seeing some key museums and Patton’s grave and the cemetery in Luxembourg. In fact, never even got to Luxembourg at all. Also, although our return layover in Dublin might have been just long enough for us to pop into Dublin for a pint, we were afraid  we would run into crowds and delays traveling the weekend before Christmas, so opted to just wait in the airport. Sigh! I sat by the window and looked out at the lovely sunny day, with Dublin in the distance beckoning to me. HOWEVER, it just gives me motivation to return someday!

My husband settled for his pint of Guinness in the airport

The remaining items on my list were all truly minor and involved things like our grandson accidentally getting grease on his sister’s coat and gum on his dad’s pants, forgetting our umbrellas one day, and me upending my drink all over my meal on the train. Like I say, pretty minor stuff.

So what about the bigger items?

Circling back to our friend, Epictetus, in each situation we tried to quickly determine what was under our control and what was our best response for the things that weren’t under our control. This was huge and is such an important attitude to maintain when traveling (oh, yeah, and pretty much for all of life.) As odd as it might sound, I was actually glad some things went wrong because it gave us a chance to model this lesson for our grandson.

This is an area where I think grandparents often shine. We have lived long enough to learn, sometimes the hard way, that it doesn’t pay to sweat the small stuff – and yes, most stuff is small stuff. For me, if everybody returns from a trip in one piece and basically healthy, the trip is a win. My husband’s phone: even if it hadn’t been recovered – small stuff.

So for those of you who read the title of this post and have been wondering what on earth “Sea Bass” has to do with any of this, let me explain.

Because the Bastogne town center was going to be closed off for all of Saturday and we would have to park and take a shuttle in, my husband was getting a little annoyed that our lunch was taking so long. He wanted to get going. I leaned over to him and said, “Sea Bass.”

“What did you say?” he asked, and I repeated, “Sea Bass.”

“Okay, I see your bass and raise you a shark – what the heck are you talking about?!”

When I told him it stood for “Start Being A Stoic,” they all burst out laughing (and I must admit, teased me mercilessly) because the acronym CBAS, how they understandably heard it, should be SBAS, which would be pronounced “Ess-Bass.” Never mind that for me, the acronym had already morphed in my mind to a picture of a large fish, making it easier for me to remember it.

Does it come as a surprise to anyone that my husband and I think differently?

After the teasing died down, it turned out that “Sea Bass” became an important code for the rest of the trip (and I imagine for years to come) – a quick and cute way to remind ourselves to be flexible, roll with the punches, and look for whatever good can be found in an unexpected situation.

Feel free to borrow my “sea bass” any time!