Virtue & Mischief

Several days ago, Abby and 150 of her peers, along with dozens of adult chaperones, praise the Lord, traveled down to Orlando, Florida, together to perform in different musical disciplines (concert choir, orchestra, etc.), to receive some instruction from members of Disney World’s artistic consultants, and—let’s be honest, here—to party with Harry Potter, Mickey Mouse, and a cast of other characters.

Perhaps you can imagine the logistical nightmare of this undertaking. Preparing 150 teenagers to pack the right things, refrain from packing the wrong things, arriving on time for appointments, herding them to and fro as needed, hectoring them in just the right doses to behave properly. Such duty is the province of angels or madmen. Or a combination of the two.

As the day of their departure neared, I observed Krista’s demeanor changing—subtly at first, then overt, culminating in “over-the-top.” She would not deny this, I think.

“I am so nervous,” she confessed as the hour approached to say fare-thee-well. “I can’t stop thinking about all the things that could go wrong. What if she gets in a conversation with some stranger and is so distracted she doesn’t notice when the plane or the bus or whatever takes off without her?”

Knowing Abby, this is actually conceivable. I admit I could envision an employee of Southwest Airlines in the Indianapolis Airport approaching her and having this sort of exchange:

“Excuse me…are you Abigail Swensen?”

“Hi there! Yeah, I am! How’d you know? That’s so cool that you somehow knew who I am!”

“Well, Ms. Swensen, ummm…you match the description we were given. ‘Long, dark hair. Fairly tall and broad shouldered. Extremely chatty and bubbly.’ Anyway, I’m not sure how to break this to you…but your flight just took off without you. Apparently you were paged a few times but never responded.”

“Oh, really? Wow! That stinks for me, I guess. Oh, well. I was just chatting with my new friend here, and, like, I guess I wasn’t really paying attention to anything else. So when’s the next flight??!” And so on.

On the other hand, with that many students and chaperones around such a scenario—and dozens of its relatives—was a virtual impossibility. Her friends Wesley, Rae, Taylor, or dozens of others would be sure to yank her hair and push her onto the proper 727 or shuttle bus if need be.

In any case, Krista admitted her anxieties weren’t necessarily rational and that they extended in all sorts of directions. Moreover, none could be allayed by my platitudinal reassurances or my tales of having navigated Paris and London on my own, or having flown from Norway to Chicago to Indianapolis with just my kid sister in tow, when I was just a few months older than Abby is currently.

On the evening of her second full day in Orlando we tried to reach her on her new cell phone. The decision to purchase this device was a pretty big deal in our home. It was arrived at after considerable soul-searching, gnashing of teeth, and loud, doleful laments of the “I’m the only person in the galaxy without one” variety.

In any event, around 10 p.m. I sent Abby a text. No reply. Krista sent her a text a little while later. No reply. Then she left her an upbeat and chirpy email requesting a quick call and review of the day’s highlights. Nothing. By 11:00 or Krista was getting antsy, so I tried to call one of Abby’s hotel roommates. No voicemail activated. A quick call to a second roommate met with the same outcome. Hmmm. I tried one of her best friends—the aforementioned Wesley—and he immediately picked up.

“Hey, Wesley, this is Mr. Swensen. Sorry to bother you, but…have you seen Abby? Is she OK?”

“Oh, yeah. She went back to her room about a half hour ago. She’s fine.”

“Great. Great. I was just calling to make sure you hadn’t whacked her over the head and then dumped her in one of those Disney ponds or something. Ha!”

“Errrrr. Ha. Yeah. Ha.” I could almost see and read Wesley’s expression as he stood there hundreds of miles away, somewhere in the midst of the Happiest Place on Earth: I didn’t think it was possible, but Mr. Swensen is even crazier than I feared. Poor, poor Abby.

Having addressed Krista’s sole concern—that her daughter was safe and sound (which we confirmed minutes later when Abby responded to our previous calls)—I inquired of Wesley concerning MY primary worry.

“So, Wesley, tell me….”


“Does Abby still have her cell phone? She hasn’t lost it yet, right?!?”

By Tim Swensen

Virtue & Mischief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected] Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.