You may have noticed that last week I slacked and did not publish an entry into my blog. My excuse for this is that I was out of town. When I wrote my post two weeks ago, some part of me thought I might be going on a trip but I had thought perhaps I would make a quick visit to Orlando to see friends and hang out in this little place called Walt Disney World. Instead, when my mother called me Monday evening to tell me that my grandfather had died, it became clear that I would be traveling to the far-less-exciting destination of Clifton, New Jersey.

First, before you feel sad, you should know that my grandfather was 97 years old so I can’t exactly say this was unexpected. When my grandmother — his wife — died three years ago, her mind was almost entirely gone thanks to Alzheimer’s. So much so that during my last visit with her she had no idea who I was (a story for another day). On the total opposite end, my grandfather was still sharp as a tack. My cousin even told me that when she went to see him in February he had mentioned that it was my wife Rebekah’s birthday even though he never had the chance to meet her.

While there’s probably never a good time for a funeral, the fact that the weather had gotten better in recent weeks was incredibly helpful as I decided it’d be best to drive to Jersey instead of paying for a last minute flight. My plan for the 17 hour drive was to just head straight through on my way there, but then take a slight detour to Cleveland on the way back in order to spend the night with my in-laws and break up the long drive. However, when I called my mother-in-law to ask if I could spend the night, she informed me that she would actually be in Erie, Pennsylvania that night seeing my sister-in-law (my wife’s brother’s wife) starring as Adelaide in a touring production of Guys and Dolls.

First I should back up and mention that ever since we moved in January my wife has been looking for a job out here in Missouri. While I was able to take my job with me, she had to start from scratch on that front. Though her main line of work had been in baking, she first took a position as a daily babysitter just to start bringing in some money. Then two weeks ago she got a position working the front desk at a senior living complex right next to our apartment. Unfortunately, this meant that she would not be accompanying me on my trek east not only because it was only her second weekend at work but also because I didn’t want to worry about introducing her to everyone while at a funeral (she’s only met my immediately family since we dated, got engaged, and got married in nine months time —another story for another day).

Ironically, on my trip to see my family, I ended up seeing nearly every member of my wife’s family. Her one brother recently moved to Wayne, NJ to accept a job at a church while her other brother has resided in Manhattan for a few years now. After my grandfather’s wake, I braved the incredibly confusing streets of North Jersey in order to catch a bus into the city to visit both brothers.

As much as I love New York, I never really know what to do while I’m there. Some part of me just wants to walk around and take it all in while the other part wants to do all the touristy stuff I wouldn’t like to admit to. We arrived at Port Authority with limited time, so I decided to just give in and  hit up the touristy stuff. Naturally, this meant our first destination was the Disney Store in Times Square.

Following our visit to the Disney Store and Toys R Us (because we’re grown men, after all), we headed back through the tunnel so I could get some rest. The next morning was the funeral and all that comes with that. I had mistakenly assumed that all of my family would gather afterwards. Instead everyone went their separate ways, presumably to take a nap after all of the Italian food we consumed for lunch.

Sunday morning I woke up relatively early and creeped out of my cousin’s house (which used to belong to my grandparents when I was growing up) before she was up. Erie bound, I blasted my music and podcasts to entertain myself on this first part of a three-part journey home. Nearly seven hours later, I arrived at the theatre where I met up with my in-laws and my wife’s littlest sister.

I had never actually seen Guys and Dolls but I guess I did know a couple of songs form the show. What’s interesting is that his was only one of handful of performances that my sister-in-law was starring in. She got cast to be in the New York-based company based on her dance experience, but was also cast as the understudy for the character of Adelaide. This story would be even better if it just so happened she got to play the lead at the show we had chosen, but the truth is this had been planned absence for the actress who normally performed the role.

When my in-laws found out that she would be playing Adelaide at a show that was only a two-hour’s drive away, they snatched up three tickets. After I called and said I would be joining, they want back to the website to find the only seat available in the section was a single right next to the tickets they had originally purchased. This could be chalked up to the fact that most people buy tickets in even numbers, leaving a single ticket between a pair and a set of three, but I like to think more of it.

Seeing my sister-in-law living her dream was truly inspiring. As someone who has always had an affinity for the creative arts and who knows first hand how hard it can be to break into that world, witnessing her accomplishment gave me a little hope for myself. It also doesn’t hurt that was great in the show and you’d never have been able to tell she was an understudy.

After the show, I followed my in-laws back to Cleveland and spent the night. I also forced my wife’s other sister to come visit just so I could complete my Mlinarcik family bingo card before heading home in the morning. As I drove up to my apartment around 9pm that night, I was greeted briefly by the pizza delivery guy at my door before I walked in to enjoy dinner with my wife after a long week.

One of the knocks on Disney fairytales and other movies and stories is that everything just seems to work out too perfectly. Maybe this is true, but then there are experiences like I had this past weekend that suggest that maybe they aren’t so far fetched. Sometimes things really do just all fall into place. Serendipity, perhaps? Divine intervention, maybe? I don’t claim to have that answer

So even though I didn’t get to visit Walt Disney World last weekend like I had hoped, there was still a little magic in my trip. Maybe not the overt magic you find in the parks, but the subtle kind that makes the hard times a little easier. For me, it was the kind of magic that reminds me that just because I’m getting older like we all do, it’s not too late to reach for the stars.