We checked in to the Skyland Resort at Shenandoah National Park and headed down the hill to our assigned lodge. A room in the resort lodge was a splurge, as compared to the comparably appointed cabins, and we selected the lodge over the cabins for the balcony with its sweeping view of the valley below. This is what was shown on the website, anyway. So, we were disappointed when we walked into our lower-level room, which was slightly dingy and damp and had a huge tree right in front of the balcony, completely obstructing our view. I was ready to resign myself to this room, lack of view and all, but John was in favor of asking for a better room: one with a view. We would be here for four nights, after all.
As we headed back up to the office to request a change, I thought of my mother. My mom was typically a go-with-the-flow kind of person. She wasn’t one to complain to a manager and I never in my life saw her return a meal to a restaurant kitchen. Hotels, however, were another story. There were many times she requested room changes in a hotel or left the hotel entirely in search of something more suitable. I remember a specific time a number of years ago when my mom, my sister, and I vacationed in Paris together. I was already in Europe on business and they flew over to meet me. The morning that they landed, I took a train down from Brussels and went directly to the Hotel Paris, a modest hotel I had booked in a good section of the city. I checked into our room to wait for them. I waited for what seemed like hours; this was before the days of cell phones so there was no way to find out what had delayed them. When they finally showed up, my mom looked around at the lobby and then the room, her disappointment in the hotel obvious. And then I learned what had happened: my sister had given the cab driver the name of our hotel, The Hotel Paris, but the driver misunderstood and thought that she had said the Hotel de Paris, the more common and shorter name of the Grand Hotel de Paris, which has been the Grand Dame of Parisian hotels since 1862 and is located a stone’s throw from the historic Opera Garnier. The driver took them to the Grand Hotel de Paris and, in the process of figuring out the error, my mom became smitten with the hotel. So, the question was, how you gonna’ keep ’em down in the budget hotel once they’ve seen the Grand Hotel de Paris? The answer, of course, is that you don’t. We checked out of the Hotel Paris and piled into a cab to go to our new home in Paris (my mother had already reserved a room), and it did not disappoint. That trip to Paris, it turned out, was my mother’s one and only time in the City of Light. Over the years, she often reminisced fondly about our time there and she never failed to mention how much she loved her stay at the Grand Hotel de Paris.
Back at the Skyland Resort. John spoke to the lady at the desk and she offered to do what she could to find us a better room, that is, one with a view. We waited about fifteen minutes and she called us up to the desk with a replacement. We exchanged keys, went down the hill, walked into that room and, voila – we had a panoramic view of the valley below. My mom would have been so proud of John! That afternoon we sat out on the balcony, enjoying the view and watching rain showers approaching from the west while we played a game of Scrabble.
Later that evening, we were relaxing in our room after dinner, listening to the sound of steady rain outside. I heard a key in the door of the room. Someone outside attempted to open the door, stopped by the slider latch that was in place. John asked who was there and a woman on the other side of the door informed us that we were in her room, Room 111. We replied that this was the room we were assigned. Apparently, no one had noted the change when we were moved. I felt terrible for the poor woman, outside in the rain and the dark and past 9:00 at night. She left and five minutes later, security arrived wanting to know our names. He confirmed that we had been checked into the room but told us that it would be okay for us to stay that night and things would be sorted out in the morning. Wait, what? Surely, he was kidding.
We did get to stay in Room 111 and I would love to say that we fully enjoyed our view throughout our stay. But Shenandoah is known to be a very foggy place and, with the exception of a few brief periods, we were literally under a cloud for most of our four days there. No view whatsoever. It felt like the hassle of moving and confusion over whose room it was was just not worth it. And then, on our last evening in the park, the clouds dispersed in the most beautiful way, with puffs of small clouds reflecting sunlight against a backdrop of darker ones hanging above the setting sun creating quite possibly one of the most beautiful evening skies we’ve ever witnessed. Everyone in our lodge stood on their balcony, in awe, and snapping pictures with cell phones that couldn’t possibly capture the remarkable scene in front of us. The sky morphed and changed in so many beautiful ways for over an hour until the last warm glow disappeared well after the sun had set.
I can’t provide a moral to this story, but it does remind me of a Buddhist parable I read recently. It goes like this:
A farmer’s most prized horse ran away. His neighbor said, “You have lost your most prized horse. That is so unlucky.” The farmer said, “Maybe.”
The next day the horse returned along with two wild horses. His neighbor said, “You now have three horses. That is very lucky.” The farmer said, “Perhaps.”
The next day the farmer’s son fell off of one of the wild horses while trying to tame it and broke his leg. His neighbor said, “You son has broken his leg. That is very unlucky.” The farmer said, “We will see.”
The following day the army came to the farmer’s village to conscribe all of the young men into military service. The farmer’s son was passed over since he had a broken leg. The neighbor said, “Your son’s broken leg has spared him from going to war. That is very lucky.” The farmer replied, “Who knows what is good luck and what is bad luck?”
In the case of our luck, there was so little at risk. What could be more of a first world problem than not having the proper view from your comfortable hotel room in a beautiful national park? So, my conclusion is this: if you’re lucky enough be at a place in life to consider your room assignment a problem, then you are very lucky indeed.