I am a great admirer of mystery and magic. Look at this life… – Harry Houdini
My grandmother used to tell me the story of her first trip to Niagara Falls. She was newly married and she had lavender wool traveling coat made especially for the trip. She spoke of early spring mists and gazebos dripping in crimson blooms. We knew that this town was no longer in its heyday, but nothing could have prepared us for how much had changed.
We decided to go to the Canadian side as there were more lodging options for families. As soon as we arrived, we had to wade through fast-food chains and casinos to find the Falls. The neon was so blinding and the arcades so plentiful that I ducked into Starbucks for a much-needed cup of coffee. The woman told me it would be $8.50 for my small cappuccino. When she saw my jaw drop, she added, “Canadian.” As I was sipping my average cup of coffee that cost more than Starbucks in Geneva, Switzerland, we continued down the hill toward the Falls.
My jaw dropped again but this time in awe. The natural beauty of Niagara Falls is something to behold. When we nestled amongst the tour-bus masses and found our spot along the viewing wall, flocks of birds circled in the dreamlike mist. The power of the water was bone-chilling as we stood right over the cascading plumes. The majesty of nature overwhelmed us as a full rainbow formed like a picture frame around the Falls. There was a moment when I could feel the wonder and romance my grandmother wove into her stories. There were a mystery and force that was undeniable and made us feel small and reverent. Because of that, the town was even more frustrating. It seemed to block and obstruct the connection with nature at every possible turn.
After one night, my husband and I were ready to leave but our kids were not. They were tired and counting on a weekend stay. My husband and I made a pact that if we were going to stay, we had to stop resisting and accept this place for what it was or nothing would reveal itself to us. If we kept complaining about the all you can eat buffet that charged $6 for a bottle of water, or the bachelor party goers that were throwing up in various corners around town, we knew our trip would continue its downward spiral. If we were staying, we were all in. We literally had to commit out loud to being where we were. The evening that followed was one of the best nights we have spent together as a family.
We wandered into Captain Jack’s Arcade with a coupon we hunted down on-line. We could get 750 tokens for $20 and the kids could split them three ways. They were beyond excited and their energy was contagious. The woman that met them at the door decided to surprise them and give them each 750 tokens because of their palatable joy. They literally screamed so she gave them all you can play laser tag, glow in the dark mini golf, and the list goes on. As we watched them dart-like beaming pinballs from corner to corner, the manager Glenna, approached my husband and me, with all you can play cards and said, “Get in there and show them how it’s done!”
Seven hours later, exhausted from Pac Man tournaments and day-glow Nerf wars, we ambled home led by the kids’ prized neon-flashing sunglasses.
No matter what expectations we have built up in our minds, some things are exactly as they first appear. We knew it was our outlook that changed our experience. In Niagara Falls we learned that we always have a choice to move toward or against any person, place, or thing.
Sometimes going in a new direction has nothing to do with leaving.