Friday, March 16, 2007

"It's all about surprises."

It all started out with my brother taking me out to my birthday dinner. It was a surprise where we were going, and he did a great job of deflecting my questions. We pulled up to a non-descript little building, a place you would almost miss if you didn't know where to look, where I read a sign at the street: "Nicola's." It was a Lebanese restaurant, which was great because I had been craving falafel (though we called it Tameya in Egypt) and it was perfect. It turned out my mom was waiting when we got there. My dad was supposed to be there too, but couldn't make it because he was sick and just wasn't in any shape to get out and about. Sorry Dad. Wish you could have been there. There were belly dancers!!!

After dinner Darren invited me over to his place to play a little Halo 2. We like to link our X-Boxes together and play using two TVs so we have no idea what the other is doing. It makes for some great game-play with plenty of surprises.

Then, right about midnight, when my eyes were nearly bugging out of my head, I told him that it was time to take me home since I had to work the next day. He told me that wasn't happening and showed me a bag that had been packed for me. He said I wasn't going home, in fact, I was getting on a plane the next morning for a surprise trip. Someone had made special arrangements for me. He added that I had already been cleared from going to work. I pressed him for more details. Where was I going? He didn't budge.

We got up he next morning and went to the airport. We got to the drop-off lane before he told me that my girlfriend Teri had bought me a plane ticket to Chicago, where I was going to hang out with her over my birthday.

A short flight and a shuttle ride later, I was standing in front of a Holiday Inn on the outskirts of Chicagoland where Teri drove up in her silver Honda. It was really great to see her. It had been over a month! I gave her a big hug and she told me there were more surprises in store for my birthday.

On the way to her new condo, I spied frozen pools of ice outside office buildings. It was the first time I had seen a frozen body of water of any kind. In recent days it had been very cold, but I apparently brought the warm weather with me. It was in the sixties! During my trip it got into the seventies, but plunged back to the 20's after I returned to Atlanta. I just lucked out I suppose.

Teri's condo looks great. She's done a great job of framing all that great swag from Egypt she got. I haven't framed so much as a scrap of papyrus, so she's doing really well in that department. Her two cats are great. Ollie has calmed down a bit, but Andrew, the new one, is spastic! Great to play with.

On Tuesday, the next part of my birthday surprise began. We got on a commuter train and headed for Chicago and before too long I found myself in front of one of my favorite places: The Art Institute of Chicago. We saw an exhibit about a Frenchman named Vollard who was an art dealer in the late 1800's and early 1900's. He sold all kinds of art made by famous names such as Van Gogh, Picasso, Cezanne, and Gauguin. I thought it was particularly interesting that the museum had assembled a collection of paintings of Vollard himself, painted by all these famous artists, presumably to persuade him to sell their work. It was great to see this same man painted over and over in the different styles that these artists were known for. Picasso's was the best in my opinion.

On our way back to the train station, we witnessed a group in a city square who had set up a kind of demonstration. A woman was reading names over a loudspeaker. It turned out they were the names of Iraqi civilians who had perished throughout the war. There were hundreds, if not thousands of shoes spread across the square, representing civilian lives lost. Some were arranged as labyrinthine paths and others were simply lined up. In the center was a large cylindrical display with large smiling faces on the outside, but horrified grieving faces on the inside.

One name on the display caught my eye: Sami Mikhael Amin Al Shammas. From my time in Egypt, I could tell it wasn't a Muslim name. It was a Christian name. Sure enough; I read his bio and he was Catholic. He perished on April 7th, 2003 when a cluster bomb detonated outside his home. It really brought home the point that there are a lot of innocent people whose lives are being ruined by the war. Our media goads us into thinking in black and white terms here in America. They speak of Muslim extremists, but rarely, if ever mention the Christians, much less the responsible, peace-loving Muslims that just want to live their lives. There's a lot of gray areas that many Americans don't consider. It's easy to generalize an entire area of the world, an entire people as being evil, but it takes brave people to point out the difficult truth that it just ain't so.

Anyway, time to get off my soap box.

We got back on the train and returned to Teri's suburb and went straight to her church where she taught a class on Africa. Several of her church members brought dishes of food from Zimbabwe. It was all great! Then we played drums and sang African hymns.

Later that night Teri and I watched Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" and the following morning we watched "Jesus Camp." These two movies were very thought provoking and deserve their own journal entry, so I'll save it for another time.

I enjoyed my time in your neighborhood Teri. Thank you!

1 comment:

Teri said...

You're welcome! I'm glad you had a good birthday surprise. :-)