The road to Padua

Padua is a lovely Italian city, known worldwide as “St. Anthony’s city”. In fact, St. Anthony lived and preached there for some years, and died there, although he was born in Lisbon, Portugal. As I once heard the archbishop of Lisbon say during mass on St. Anthony’s day, 13 June: “St. Anthony from Lisbon, of Padua”. I wholeheartedly agree with him – St. Anthony, after all, belongs to us all, even if in Lisbon we are proud that he has been born here.

I have been to Padua twice, on both occasions to go to St. Anthony’s basilica, but this time Padua appeared in my life for a completely different reason: my son Pedro’s girlfriend is doing her Erasmus programme there.

Imagine you’re eighteen, imagine you are living your first great love story; imagine you have lived the best months of your life, not only because you are in love but also because you have overcome a series of challenges you had to face; and when everything is perfect – so perfect – suddenly you have to be separated from the one you love because she will be going away for a few months.

When Pedro mentioned this I sympathized, of course – who hasn’t suffered separation from a teenage love, who hasn’t shed bitter tears as a plane takes off or by looking for the thousandth time at the photo of the loved one, who hasn’t counted the days until the next reunion? So when he said he very much wanted to visit her I promised I would help make things happen, his savings having been seriously depleted by the summer holidays!

It all required some planning, as it would mean his missing university for two days, and also because it would have to happen before his tests begin. So, even if barely a month after her leaving, he decided this would be the best weekend for his trip, and soon we were looking for cheap flights to a city as near to Padua as possible.

Unfortunately flights to Venice (only some 80 kilometres away) are very expensive so we finally chose an Easy jet flight to Milan Malpensa. And then we had to find the rest: a train from Malpensa airport to Milano Centrale train station and from there another one to Padua.

Pedro is eighteen and although he has travelled by plane quite a bit he had never done it on his own. At sixteen he went camping for the first time to a summer concert and has gone camping several times since but always with his long-time friends, so I could not help giving him a set of instructions, from airport security procedures to his not engaging in talks to strangers when in Italy! And of course I asked him to go to St. Anthony’s basilica and say a prayer for us there. He simply smiled and nodded at every new instruction and he must have wanted to say something like “Mom, I’m not a baby anymore!” But he didn’t, although I could see it behind his smile.

I was not able to take him to the airport but called him a couple of times – I just wanted to know if all was going smoothly. Mimi – the lady who has been with us since they were born and is like a grandmother to them – lovingly prepared three huge roast beef sandwiches and I told him to buy a bottle of water after passing security, as Easy jet flights to not include any food.

During the afternoon I concentrated on my work and suddenly I heard the beep of a message “Just landed”. Wow, time flies, I thought. I gave him a few minutes and called, and was happy to discover that he had already found his way to the train to Milano Centrale. We kept calling each other: he wanted to ask something or I just wanted to know if things were progressing well. Fortunately there were no delays and in the early evening, when I was driving Mimi home and heading for my beach apartment, we both talked to him – using the loudspeaker system in my car – and were reassured to know he was already sitting on the train to Padua.

The rest, I can only imagine. I suppose he must have dozed on the train. At a certain time he sent a message saying the train had stopped for a time but was now on its way, so I realized he would be late. I knew his girlfriend would be waiting for him at the train station in Padua. Then as time went by without further news I called but his phone went straight into messages, so I decided to call her and it was good to hear her clear, friendly, decided voice on the other side ” Hi, Auntie, how are you? Yes, I’ m at the station, the train was delayed for forty minutes but it will arrive soon. Yes, I’ll tell him to call when he arrives. Bye”.

As I hung up I was reassured. Almost, I thought, he is almost there. I may be accused of giving too much importance to my son’s teenage romance but in my heart I know I’m doing the right thing in helping him make his dream come true. I know I’m a romantic at heart. Love has disappointed me many times but then it has given me much happiness in so many others. Our love stories and the way we live them are what make our life worthwhile, as love – in its many forms, be it for our lovers, children, parents or friends – is certainly the most important thing in life. And it can make us feel so happy or so miserable, but it’s always worth if only for the ecstatic moments it brings.

As my son reaches the end of his – if not epic, certainly long – journey to go and visit his beloved, I feel happy. As a mother, when my boys are happy I am happy too, and I suffer when I see them sad. So today, as I picture him coming out of the train, his most radiant smile on his face as he sees her on the platform waiting for him, smiling in her turn, I thank the gods above that smile on lovers and I wish these two all the happiness in the world. Even if we wish for the power to make time stand still at certain times of our lives but know it’s an impossible dream, these moments somehow last forever as they will become cherished moments and live in our hearts for all time.

Whatever happens in his life, I know Pedro will remember this moment and the moments he will live in Padua in the next few days as very special and unforgettable  ones. And incorrigible romantic that I am, I am happy that I could play the fairy godmother and help him make them happen. If only it were always so easy to make our children’s dreams come true.

He calls to say he has arrived. I smile and put the phone away. I silently blow them a kiss and I go to sleep. I sleep soundly. It was a long road to Padua, but he has arrived.